[Viewpoint] In death, Roh gains a new life

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[Viewpoint] In death, Roh gains a new life

The death was truly worthy of him. His last words reminded me of “Song of the Sword,” a novel by Kim Hun that the former president had called very moving.

The fate of Admiral Yi Sun-sin was indeed tragic. Was it a suicide interpreted as a murder, or a murder masquerading as a suicide? Did former President Roh Moo-hyun really want to follow the admiral? We know for a fact that he was a great admirer of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, whose legendary status was completed by a tragic assassination. Did Roh Moo-hyun think that he could survive only through death?

If so, it appears he was right. Roh was born again after he died. Since May 23, the country has been overwhelmed with human documentaries about Roh Moo-hyun. Roh, the former president, passed on, while Roh, the ordinary man, caught a new breath of life. The people were both grieved and angry. However, just as Roh the president could not hide Roh the man, Roh the man cannot erase Roh the president.

He fought against regionalism but lost. You can hardly find a “fool” like Roh Moo-hyun to challenge regionalism except for Yu Si-min, who is known for his resemblance to Roh.

We all thought that the regionalist sentiments would end with the finale of the three-Kim period. However, the Yeongnam, Honam and Chungcheong regions, which were ruled by Kim Young-sam, Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-pil, were taken over by Park Geun-hye, Chung Dong-young and Lee Hoi-chang, respectively.

Roh Moo-hyun was in despair. Søren Kierkegaard called despair “the sickness unto death.” In order to resolve discord, all political factions should be able to send their representatives to the National Assembly. However, regionalism is an obstacle. If we were to end regional structures, we would need to change the election system.

Nathan Sharansky proposed a threshold test in his book, “The Case for Democracy.”

“If a person cannot walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment or physical harm, then that person is living in a fear society, not a free society,” he said.

Roh Moo-hyun’s anti-authoritarian values were not just for his image but represented his true character. He was a president who could express his critical view without fear at the town square. The town square could be a newspaper, the Internet, a television or an actual square. Citizens should be guaranteed the right to express political opinions, and the town square must not be blockaded. Blockading a town square means blockading democracy.

Anyone can express his political views, even if they are subjective. Freedom of belief and expression are core values of democracy that we cannot compromise. However, that does not mean anyone is allowed the freedom to distort facts or tell lies. Defending such freedom is a false syllogism. Assemblies and protests need to be guaranteed, but violence should be punished. Violence is democracy’s enemy. Public authority is a physical force mandated by the law. However, even public authority must not use violent means to suppress peaceful demonstrators without legitimate reasons.

The prosecutors and the media are criticized for being accomplices in releasing the details of Roh’s case. The prosecutors say their investigation had been grounded. Although the suicide of the former president during the probe is greatly regrettable, they ask how they can investigate any case in the future when they were condemned for the tragedy. Some are strongly questioning why an investigation of an unlawful act deserves criticism. They might be right. However, what many of us are asking is not why the National Tax Service and the prosecutors investigated and examined the former president. While some are resentful of the intensity of the investigation, that’s not the point. The key criticism is whether the prosecutors and the NTS used the same yardstick on Roh as they did on other cases and other former presidents. The criticism of the media is not much different. “The Rule of Law” collapses when a powerful agency unfairly brandishes a sword. Most of the time, the rule of law is damaged not by the citizens but by the power holders. In the 1980s, the Democratic Justice Party emphasized “Realization of a Just Society” because the administration was not just. When “the Rule of Law” is emphasized too much, people will start questioning the administration’s true intentions.

National Assembly Speaker Kim Hyung-o proposed discussing constitutional revision in July in time for Constitutional Day. If the revision were to be made, I personally oppose the idea of holding the presidential election and the National Assembly election together. If a president is to serve a term of four years, with a re-election allowed, the general election should be held during his midterm. A failed political party should be given a two-year chance. That’s about how long the public can stay patient. A four-year period is too long. Only by making the change can we keep the public from marching to Gwanghwamun.

Upon losing the U.S. presidential election, John McCain declared, “Obama is my president.” Once the election is over, the winner is the president for all citizens. Lee Myung-bak is my president. If I do not acknowledge it, then I would be denying democracy itself. Roh Moo-hyun was my president as well. A small tombstone will be erected in his hometown of Bongha Village as he wished in his will, but I wish he could be buried in the National Cemetery because he was our nation’s 16th president.

*The writer is a political consultant and the chief executive officer of Min Consulting. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Park Sung-min
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