[Viewpoint] In Roh’s death there lives his spirit

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[Viewpoint] In Roh’s death there lives his spirit

Since May 23, Korean society once again faced a “boiling May” following the example of last year.

The nation was swept by people’s emotions, cherishing the memory of the late former President Roh Moo-hyun.

I have said earlier that the enthusiasm was rooted in many people’s discovery of Roh’s multiple images.

Instead of remembering Roh as a public servant and a policy maker, the people discovered Roh as a political leader who was a commoner and who fought authoritarianism.

The people also discovered Roh’s spirit of democratization once again through his death and cherished that memory of the late leader.

Psychological, social and political factors are integrated in this surprising public enthusiasm toward Roh. And the Lee Myung-bak administration’s governance philosophy, based on the dry rule of law, is located as a backdrop. Therefore, an attempt to understand the “Roh Moo-hyun gale” through a single factor or a single political view will miss the larger picture.

That people of all generations and regions - even middle-of-the-road conservatives - joined the wave of cherishing Roh is solid proof of this.

It doesn’t appear that the emotion of remembering Roh will disappear overnight.

When the people return to their everyday lives, the emotion will fade slowly, but the memory of the emotion will live on in our minds.

There will be a point where the emotion of remembering Roh will turn into the “politics of memory.” In other words, the border between life and death will disappear in our memory, and only the memory about the unfortunate death will eventually force the people to look back on their own lives.

At the same time, it may also bring about a new change in people’s awareness.

What many people want to remember are not the policies of the Roh administration. They will rather want to remember Roh’s values and spirit - human rights, democracy and protection for society’s underprivileged.

Although there were undoubtedly flaws, people want to remember Roh’s life and politics in which he tried to realize his values and his spirit.

What touched so many people is the sincerity of Roh in his life and politics. What makes a life complete is the awareness of the incompleteness of a life, and Faust’s bitter struggle to overcome the incompleteness - the challenge of Roh, the “fool” - was the source of Roh’s sincerity.

The funeral is over now, and society faces the task of reading the people’s minds that were expressed through the emotion of cherishing Roh and wisely answering those thoughts. It is in this regard, I want to discuss the “Roh Moo-hyun model.”

The model is the inclusive socio-development strategy once pushed forward by the Roh government. At the time, Roh’s government had three national agenda items - democracy, society with balanced development and the era of Northeast Asia with peace and prosperity.

As we look back, the Roh administration attempted to democratize power, develop the nation with balance, build an advanced trade country, emphasize human rights, reinforce the social welfare net and establish peace on the Korean Peninsula.

To achieve these goals, the Roh Moo-hyun model used strategies that are different from the traditional black-and-white division between the liberals and the conservatives.

To build an advanced trading country, Roh pushed forward free trade with the United States despite the opposition of his backers. To democratize society, Roh pushed forward the abolition of the National Security Law and revision of the law governing private schools, despite the conservatives’ opposition.

For those who were familiar with the traditional black-and-white division, the Roh Moo-hyun model must have been extremely uncomfortable. But to Roh and those who pushed forward his model, only the outcome of their policies was important, not the ideological identity of each policy.

Perhaps the controversial political plan of grand coalition was located at the peak of Roh’s pragmatism. What I want to note is that the Roh model maintained consistency in its goals and strategies, regardless of how each policy was evaluated.

I want to emphasize that many agenda items in the Roh Moo-hyun model aimed at the national development of a new liberalism, moving beyond traditional liberalism and conservatism.

One of the poor political traditions of Korea is denying all policies of past administrations.

The five years of the Roh Moo-hyun model include both successes and failures. Although political aims between parties may still be different, Roh’s successes truly succeeded for the nation. That is the task left by the Roh Moo-hyun phenomenon and I believe it is suitable for the Lee Myung-bak administration’s “creative pragmatism.”

*The writer is a professor of sociology at Yonsei University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Ho-ki
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