[Viewpoint] We mourn the loss of Roh and hope

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[Viewpoint] We mourn the loss of Roh and hope

What is happening? The people are mourning over the loss of former President Roh Moo-hyun. Grief and shock overwhelm the entire nation.

Over a two-day span, 150,000 mourners visited Roh’s hometown of Bongha Village. Thousands more continue to visit makeshift altars across the country.

Although we need to wait for future generations to make a fair evaluation of him, he was not evaluated as successful president in his time.

In the presidential election held just a year-and-a-half ago, he was the target of resentment and criticism. He was blamed for all the political, economic and social difficulties we were going through.

He shouted for unity through the act of breaking regionalism. But ideological divisions accelerated, and the prevailing structure of political parties representing different regions continued.

Although he made efforts to establish a social safety net, real estate prices surged and the issue of irregular workers was not resolved.

The Democratic Party had to pay a high political price in the last general election and presidential election as a result of what many saw was Roh’s failed presidency.

The investigation into the alleged bribery involving Roh made things worse. People felt betrayed. Perhaps, it seemed, he was not as moral as he appeared.

But now, the people feel tremendous pain to see him leave us. The people mourn the late President Roh perhaps because his life ended in such a tragic way over something that can be seen as somewhat trivial compared to what occurred while he was the leader of the country.

Unbelievably, many people miss him, probably because a political value that he symbolized feels more desolate these days.

Whether he succeeded or failed, he represented the underprivileged and symbolized change and reform. During the 2002 election campaign, Roh shed tears, leaving the indelible image of a leader who understands the pain of ordinary citizens.

He earned the affectionate nickname “Roh Moo-hyun, the fool” as he kept trying to break the bonds of regionalism despite repeated failures, which created hope that he would usher in a new kind of politics. He would just as easily meet with rookie prosecutors as he would smoke cigarettes with ministers.

His unconventional behavior and unrefined speaking manner caused political controversy. But on the other hand, they created a fresh image of the president in an era of post-authoritarianism.

Now, the approval ratings of the major political parties sit below 50 percent.

The approval rating of President Lee Myung-bak hovers around 30 percent. This seems to signal that there is no one or no place that the people can trust or count on politically.

With the domestic economy already in bad shape, the global financial crisis broke out last fall and made people’s lives even tougher. Jobs are disappearing and the burdens of daily life - such as housing and education - only increase. It is difficult to find hope.

The people do not find consolation anywhere, and they do not feel that someone understands their pain. Leaders do not listen to their words. Instead, they demand that the people follow their words. They try to control and oppress the people.

The president, the government and the political community are distant from the people.

The people view them as scary and indifferent. Such separation and inability to communicate make the people miss Roh, a very humane leader.

People visit the altars to pay their respects to the late president and give consolation to his family but in fact they visit there probably because they want to get consolation as well.

The resentment against Roh during the 2007 presidential election was perhaps not resistance against his political ideals and vision.

It must have been rather an expression of disappointment that he failed to deliver on the hopes we put on him.

Now that he is gone, we are desperate for someone to revive the dreams and ideals he espoused.


*The writer is a professor of political science at Soongsil University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kang Won-taek

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