A moment for national unity

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A moment for national unity

A chorus of condolence calls is pouring in lamenting the tragic death of the 16th president of Korea. Citizens are walking more than two kilometers to express their deep sorrow, to Bongha Village, the home of former President Roh Moo-hyun, where his body lies in state. A steady stream of people, many holding children by the hand, leads into downtown Seoul to burn incense at makeshift mourning altars.

Volunteers are busy helping people to express their sympathy in an orderly manner.

Yesterday, people prayed for Roh’s eternal rest in heaven and for the bereaved family’s good health at churches, cathedrals and temples nationwide.

People conveyed a message of condolence, irrespective of age, sex or social status, whether in the ruling or opposition camp, whether conservative or progressive, pro-Roh or anti-Roh.

The whole nation expresses sadness - even one of the late Roh’s major political rivals while he was in office, Park Geun-hye, former chairperson of the Grand National Party.

Her supporters’ group, Parksamo, released a message of respect for the late former president.

“Although we struggled with him during his whole term in office due to our different ideologies and political stances, he was a president of great importance from a long-term historical perspective,” they said.

The incumbent president, Lee Myung-bak, is scheduled to visit the ceremonial funeral hall in Bongha Village.

After a seven-day mourning period, the former president will be laid to rest in his home village, in accordance with his will.

His suicide, jumping off a cliff, is a shocking tragedy that defies explanation.

This death is unprecedented, and it comes during a tumultuous time for Korea. Many people are experiencing tough circumstances during this economic crisis.

The nation is also in disarray due to social conflicts, political deadlock between the two Koreas, conflict between labor and management, the issue of irregular workers, conflicts on legislation between the ruling and opposition parties and physical struggles by radical labor unions.

In these circumstances, with many people feeling a sense of unease, the suicide of the former national leader, who had been leading the country until just last year, can only be described as stunning.

It is urgent and imperative that Korean society weather this tragic event prudently, and strengthen its firm foundation for stability and historical development to help the country move forward.

Most importantly, the grieving family must be shown proper respect, and the funeral to carry Roh to his eternal rest must be conducted in a sensible and respectful manner.

We should also take this opportunity to look back calmly on Roh’s political legacy, which it now falls to all of us to inherit and develop. We must give his historic presidency its due.

In a situation where conflict still runs rampant, what matters most is calm and serenity in carrying out these difficult tasks.

As President Roh wrote in his last testament, “Don’t blame anyone.”

That applies to all of us. Though political figures or interest groups may hold opinions completely contrary to Roh’s, and may have engaged in bitter struggles against him and his supporters on policy and social issues, we can only move Korea forward through compromise. And that cannot be done by excluding the followers of the late former president.

Similarly, it is inappropriate to blame the prosecutors for the death of President Roh without any evidence, or to block specific persons or groups from expressing their condolences at his funeral.

Actions like these would not resolve any conflicts and would be contrary to the wishes of the late president.

For example: It was wrong to destroy the flowers sent by President Lee Myung-bak.

The public will simply not tolerate particular groups of people to appropriate Roh’s death to mobilize politically and plan aggressive demonstrations.

The crowds participating in this procession of condolences intend to extend their sympathy for President Roh and his bereaved family.

But this expression should also be a calm manifestation of the people’s will not to exacerbate social conflict.

The bereaved family accepted the proposal of the government to hold a “people’s funeral” for the late president.

A people’s funeral is meant to send the deceased to eternal rest, sharing the sadness of the whole nation and extending sympathy to the bereaved family.

In the modern history of Korea, its first president, Syngman Rhee; the great patriot Kim Gu, and President Choi Kyu-hah all went to their eternal rest honorably at people’s funerals.

A people’s funeral is the end, in the sense that it gives us a chance to bid farewell to a late national leader, but it also implies a new starting point for national accord.

We would like to suggest that while the funeral is taking place, all the various groups reflect upon the five years of rule by our national leader, Roh Moo-hyun, regardless of ideology or political faction.

Let us ponder what he tried to say in deciding to leap to his death. If Korean society falls into conflict and chaos instead, we are likely to lose even more than our former national leader.

The world is watching the Republic of Korea.

In a mature and harmonious atmosphere, we should send President Roh Moo-hyun off with respect, conveying the heartfelt sympathy of the whole nation.
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