[Viewpoint]Blood ties and powerIn the history of Korean politics, every member of a president’s family who has caused the nation trouble has one thing in common: memories of poverty and hardship, as well as strong affection toward family members.
Those family bonds got stronger because of the extreme poverty and hardship they endured. Such strong bonds can be a blessing for ordinary people.
However, such strong bonds can cause a disaster when a member of the family becomes president.
Former President Chun Doo Hwan issued an official apology to the people in November 1988 and retired to the seclusion of the Baekdam Temple, deep in the Gangwon mountains. He went into self-imposed exile because of wrongdoings committed during his term of office. The most notorious of them involved his younger brother, Kyung-hwan.
Chun loved his brother Kyung-hwan very much. He provided his younger brother a job in the presidential security service, then appointed him secretary general of the central office of the Saemaeul Movement, the national headquarters of the development program for rural communities. Later, Chun promoted his brother to be its president.
In his apology, Chun spoke frankly about the childhood poverty he and his brother experienced: “I watched one of my younger brothers die in my arms when I was a boy.”
Former President Kim Dae-jung’s family members grew closer because they experienced torture together.
The military regime under then-General Chun Doo Hwan jailed Kim Dae-jung and his two sons, Hong-il and Hong-up, in 1980.
Hong-il could not stand the torture and ended up getting hurt. The aftereffects of that torture, including an undisclosed central nervous system disorder, has lasted throughout his life.
After the court handed him a death sentence, Kim Dae-jung wrote from prison to his wife: “Our sons, going through torture, have forged a strong faith in God.” He wrote a second letter to his son, Hong-up: “Although you are now over 30, you are still unmarried. That is because twice you have missed the chance for a happy marriage with a beloved because of me.”
Former President Kim Young-sam also felt sorry for his second son, Hyun-chul.
He knew his close aides were worried about the low public opinion of his son.
Kim said to them, “Hyun-chul failed to get a proper job because of me. The only thing he has learned is politics.”
The sons of former presidents Kim Dae-jung and Kim Young-sam have created great political burdens on their fathers because of their involvement in corruption cases.
Later, they created further problems by applying to be candidates in elections for the National Assembly.
Neither Kim Dae-jung nor Kim Young-sam stopped their sons from doing so.
I think the aging fathers probably could not help but support their sons.
If you visit the birthplace of former President Roh Moo-hyun in Bongha Village, you will gain an understanding of the brotherly love between Roh and his elder brother.
The Roh brothers lived in a tiny room in a humble house. They probably still remember the smell of each other’s sweat and feet.
Roh’s elder brother, Geon-pyung, remained in their hometown because he had no particular social status.
Thus, he did not create much noise. However, there was one incident.
In 2004, Nam Sang-kook, a former president of Daewoo Construction Company, was investigated by prosecutors on a charge of offering a bribe of 30 million won ($30,000) through Geon-pyung for his reappointment.
While the investigation was going on, President Roh sarcastically criticized Nam at a press conference: “People who graduated from good schools and achieved big success visit an innocent person in the countryside, kowtowing to him and offering him money.”
Nam killed himself by jumping off a bridge into the Han River that day.
Geon-pyung was put on probation.
Before releasing him, the judge gave him a warning: “It is a burden to the president if his relatives act arrogantly and get treated well, so you should behave in a humble and unassuming manner.”
The only former president without a family history of poverty or pain is former President Roh Tae-woo.
He could have left office free from rumors of misbehavior by family members.
However, he is haunted by trouble involving former cabinet minister Park Chul-un, a cousin of Roh’s wife. Park continues to create a lot of noise due to suspicions that he hid slush funds, even 20 years after Roh’s retirement.
Will history repeat itself?
President Lee Myung-bak is faced with a family problem, too.
His brother, Lee Sang-deuk, the deputy speaker of the National Assembly, is six years older than the president.
It is said that the president’s mother, who had no formal education, always woke the brothers early in the morning before she went out to peddle goods at a public market.
Then she would say prayers for the country, their village, their relatives and the children, in that order.
Today, the two brothers are attracting the people’s attention. The elder brother has survived a struggle within their party on the nomination of candidates, although politicians who are younger than him and had yet to taste re-election were dropped from the governing party’s list of candidates for the upcoming general elections.
People are also curious to know why a rumor is going around in political circles and officialdom that there are people who claim to have a connection with Lee Sang-deuk.
How many of those who want to get their hands on power and interests will gather around him?
How will those who want to benefit try to make use of him even if he personally remains clean?
And how much noise will be created about the president and his elder brother?
People are quiet, but they are watching.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin