[Viewpoint] Let Kim’s legacy be reconciliation, unity

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[Viewpoint] Let Kim’s legacy be reconciliation, unity

Koreans are clearly divided on their evaluations of the late former President Kim Dae-jung. Many believe that he did a good job, but others disagree.

But it’s more complicated than that. Some like him simply as a human being, while a few express open disdain.

However, as he recently passed away, even those who think he made mistakes or simply hate him still hope the former president will rest in peace, just as sincerely as those who evaluate him more positively.

Even those who objected to a state funeral for the former president and opposed the North Korean delegation’s visit to South Korea wish Kim’s family all the best.

That is the custom and tradition that has lasted for thousands of years in our country.

During the mourning period for Kim last week, all Koreans grieved over him, forgetting conflict inside the country and reconciling with one another.

Former President Chun Doo Hwan was the head of the despotic military administration that led the Gwangju massacre. He tried to execute former President Kim for plotting a rebellion.

Former President Kim Young-sam frequently criticized the late former president, saying that he always changed his words and was an expert liar.

President Lee Myung-bak was only recently labeled a dictator by the deceased former president.

But these three former and incumbent presidents were the first ones to visit Kim at the hospital and at his altar. They expressed their sincere condolences at the altar.

If Kim could have answered them, what would he have said?

While Kim was in office, he invited Chun to the Blue House as many as 10 times. Visiting Kim’s altar, Chun perhaps begged forgiveness for the Gwangju massacre and his attempt to execute him.

However, former President Kim would not have blamed Chun for those two mistakes. He would not have mentioned the issues at all but would rather have praised Chun’s achievements for economic growth and reached out his hand to forgive him.

If Kim Young-sam had expressed his regrets for his harsh words against the deceased leader, the late former president would not have ignored him or expressed any hard feelings against him.

He would rather have answered that he was also sorry for making mistakes, like dividing the forces for democratization based on regionalism.

What would Kim have said to President Lee? Would he have kept blaming Lee for driving former President Roh Moo-hyun to commit suicide? Would he have still called him a dictator and an enemy of democracy, the one who froze inter-Korean relations and went against the flow of history?

Or would he have regretted his criticism as too harsh?

As he has now gone to the other world, we will never know. But I believe Kim Dae-jung would have apologized to Lee for his harsh remarks and asked the incumbent president to do his best to advance our country further.

During the mourning period for Kim, some political leaders served as chief mourners, and they will have to work as proxies to tie up the loose ends Kim left behind. His political rivals should continue in the attitude of reconciliation that they wore when visiting him at the hospital and at the altar.

In advanced democratic countries, politics is an arena of mediation for conflict among different groups - a place to mend wounds.

Politics in the Western world must confront conflicts that are often more severe than the ones in our country among different regions, different classes, different generations, different religions and different ethnic groups, and still encourage national unity.

Meanwhile, politics in Korea often encourage conflict and break up the people.

Political leaders of both the ruling and opposition parties must not destroy the atmosphere of reconciliation and unity that was created after former President Kim’s death.

Through the former president’s death, political leaders must realize that there is no ultimate victory or defeat in struggling for power.

They must instead exercise insight into history and a sense of responsibility when engaging in politics.

That is the only way to make Kim’s death a stepping stone to develop democracy in Korea and build further upon his achievements for democratization.


*The writer is a professor of political science at Seoul National University.

by Lee Jung-bock

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