[Viewpoint] Looking back to look forward

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[Viewpoint] Looking back to look forward

As a country, we Koreans have overcome countless fears.

There are five major fears that contemporary Koreans have experienced. These are: the fear of losing one’s home country, the fear of war, the fear of absolute poverty, the fear of suppression and the fear of relative poverty.

Different generations have experienced these fears with different degrees of intensity. People in their 70s and older remember the fear of losing their homeland, those over 60 will remember the fear of the Korean War. People in their 50s and older have experienced the fear of absolute poverty, those who are younger probably have a fear of suppression and a fear of relative poverty.

Most of Korea’s presidents have fought against the fears of their time, and we Koreans are fortunate that they have.

Syngman Rhee fought for the nation’s independence and established a liberal democracy. Park Chung Hee liberated Koreans from extreme poverty, while Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun contributed to promoting human rights and freedom. After democracy in Korea took root and began to flourish, Lee Myung-bak was elected president because voters were largely dissatisfied with the threat of relative poverty,

There are many lessons to be learned from our previous presidents. And all countries struggle with the question of what the most urgent task of today is, based on a nation’s experiences of past fears. While the debates continue, it is necessary to create an environment in which our past experiences can be properly recorded and considered. The Republic of Korea has little more than six decades of history. It is impossible to discuss the nation’s present and future based on the direct experiences of contemporary generations alone, because they have yet to fully digest history.

That brings up questions about presidential memorial halls. Do we have a proper memorial hall for Syngman Rhee? What about the Park Chung Hee Memorial Hall, for which plans have dragged on for the past seven years?

Ironically, the history of Korean presidential memorials goes from present to past. During his presidency, Roh once attempted to build a memorial inside a university campus, but gave up the plan. After his death, plans to build a memorial for Roh have resurfaced.

The Kim Dae-jung Library in Yonsei University and the Kim Dae-jung Convention Center in Gwangju have already been built, and they are serving similar purposes as presidential memorials for Kim. Meanwhile, public discussions about building a second Kim Dae-jung Convention Center in Gwangju have been reignited.

In Geoje, South Gyeongsang, a groundbreaking ceremony for the Kim Young-sam presidential memorial hall was held this spring.

But aside from these examples, plans for the construction of memorials for other former presidents have been stuck, and mired in debate.

In particular, the plan to build a memorial hall for Park has been stalled for some time. On the eve of the 1997 presidential election, Kim Dae-jung, who was still a presidential candidate, pledged to build a memorial hall for Park, and a memorial foundation for Park was launched in 1999. Since then, the project has been on hold; a decision cannot even be made about its name. Over the decade, the foundation, the central government and the Seoul Metropolitan Government have engaged in fierce debates about the memorial. Meanwhile, fights have also continued among supporters of Park and the opposition.

Seven years ago, work began on a memorial hall for Park at a remote site in Sangam-dong, Seoul, but construction was stopped and the site has since been abandoned. The project was then changed into a plan for the Park Chung Hee Memorial/Library. Because the facility will mainly serve as a city-run library, its function as a presidential memorial hall has become secondary.

Kim Hyeon-gyeong, the head of a coalition of civic groups who oppose the hasty construction of a Park Chung Hee memorial, laments the situation. “The total area of the building is 1,540 pyeong (5,091 square meters). Of that area, the library will occupy 480 pyeong, while the memorial hall will occupy 360 pyeong,” Kim said. “Will it ever be possible to display the vast amount of records on Park’s 18-year rule of this nation?

“The site has a parking lot large enough to accommodate just 15 cars. It is simply illogical to build a memorial hall for Park in such a remote site.”


*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Noh Jae-hyun

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