[Viewpoint] No one to measure up to the Kims

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[Viewpoint] No one to measure up to the Kims

One of the most famous and influential figures in Korea is currently lying on a bed in the intensive care unit of Severance Hospital in Sinchon.

Kim Dae-jung is living history. A graduate of a vocational high school and a native of the Jeolla region, Kim won the presidency and the Nobel Peace Prize with unimaginable will and devotion. When it comes to the former president, there are four types of people in Korea. One group likes him, one hates him, one loves him incredibly and to the last one, Kim is simply beneath contempt.

In this sense, he is a line dividing the people.

However, he is now quietly fighting for his life - not as a politician, an opposition figure or a president, but as a human.

A man who holds an extremely unique relationship with Kim recently visited him at the hospital. Kim Young-sam is a long-time rival of Kim Dae-jung and a living piece of history in his own right. A graduate of Seoul National University and a native of the Gyeongsang region, Kim Young-sam realized his childhood dream of winning the presidency in hard-to-imagine ways.

When it comes to Kim Young-sam, there are three kinds of people in Korea. One puts him ahead of Kim Dae-jung on the popularity scale, one flips that order, and the third ranks the former leaders more or less even.

Kim Young-sam is also a line dividing the people.

Together, the two men - nicknamed YS and DJ - represent the line that separates the conservatives and the progressives and the Gyeongsang and Jeolla regions of this country.

Journalists have asked YS if it’s appropriate to say that he has now reconciled with DJ. His answer: “Yes. It’s about time.”

Journalists then framed Kim Young-sam’s hospital visit as part of a historic reconciliation. The conflicts between the two sold newspapers over the years. Their reconciliation is doing the same today, proving that their popularity remains high.

What’s regrettable is that they didn’t meet up and embrace each other a little bit earlier, as the two did when they were comrades in the democratization movement. It would have been a remarkable scene.

Conflicts between Koreans do not suddenly and completely disappear just because those involved made peace with each other.

And yet, we all yearned for the public reconciliation between DJ and YS, not because they were involved in so much conflict, but because the country doesn’t currently have a leader capable of resolving the regional and ideological issues the nation faces today.

DJ and YS will be remembered by history as pioneers of Korea’s democratization. Even if they had not won the presidency, they still would have been remembered as legends. If they had died during their fight for democratization - which is such a gruesome thought - they would have been elevated into the realm of myth.

It is, however, much harder to live a life as a hero than die as one. Both men are in their 80s. In a mere list of accomplishments and failures, the number of failures might be longer. But when their merits and demerits are put on a scale, I have no doubt that their merits are weightier.

After becoming presidents, they both disappointed many people. And yet it is hard to find such competent leaders around the world.

Many criticized them and wanted their era to end, but no politician has actually achieved what they have. Their drive, devotion, courage, historical awareness, sense of duty and political power are so strong, no one compares to them.

Both men deserve a standing ovation by the entire nation.

They waited to make peace until now, when Kim Dae-jung is on a hospital bed fighting for his life. The belated attempt at reconciliation is heartbreaking.

But what’s harder to swallow is the reality that we do not have a leader for true reconciliation from a broader, national standpoint. It will be hard to find one who is more capable than either of the two Kims.

We will miss having them among the halls of power for a long time.

The writer is a political consultant and the chief executive officer of Min Consulting.

by Park Sung-min
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