Petty former presidents

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Petty former presidents

Former President Kim Young-sam reconciled yesterday with former President Kim Dae-jung. The two could not even bring themselves to shake hands before Kim Dae-jung’s health deteriorated significantly in recent weeks.

But Kim Young-sam paid him a visit, easing the conflict that stretched back two decades.

The two former leaders were comrades and ardent supporters of the democratic movement under the military rule of Park Chung Hee and Chun Doo Hwan. They relinquished their titles as legislators and went on a hunger strike. Kim Dae-jung was even kidnapped and sentenced to death for his views. Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung represented the Yeongnam and Honam areas, respectively, and at times competed against each other to assume leadership over the opposition party. Nonetheless, they were on the same side in general for democratization.

That all changed in 1987, when they failed to narrow the field down to just one presidential candidate from the opposition party, which lost in the presidential election. It marked the beginning of the strife between the two.

It’s a common story in Korea.

Chun and former President Roh Tae-woo were friends who conducted the Dec. 12 military coup together. But the friendship unraveled, and their relations remain icy.

But both Chun and Roh still regard Kim Young-sam as an enemy.

While Kim Young-sam was in office, the government led investigations into how Chun and Roh accumulated their wealth and also brought to trial those involved in the military coup. Roh in particular holds strong resentment, believing that Kim betrayed him. Roh had previously supported Kim as his successor. Late former President Roh Moo-hyun did not have good relations with any of his predecessors, continuing the long trend among Korean presidents.

When the Blue House invites former presidents over as a group, one or two usually don’t show up. And in inauguration ceremonies for new presidents, former presidents often carry cold and rigid expressions.

In the United States, it’s completely different, as former presidents work as mediators for national integration. In January, with about 10 days to go before Barack Obama was sworn in, Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush got together with Obama. George W. Bush said that they all wished the president-elect success.

Korea’s former presidents have unresolved issues revolving around personal issues, rather than historical or political ones. They must take the national good into account and pursue the greater cause rather than focus on their own personal quibbles.

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