Pols struggle to pay Hwang respect

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Pols struggle to pay Hwang respect

As expected, the conservative camp is unanimously mourning the death of Hwang Jang-yop, the highest-ranking defector from North Korea.

But liberal politicians are divided on the best way to react.

Hwang, who died Sunday at the age of 87, was once hailed in the North as the architect of the regime’s Juche, or self-reliance, ideology. But after his defection to the South in 1997, he became perhaps the harshest critic of the Kim Jong-il regime.

Conservative politicians from the Grand National Party and the Liberty Forward Party, for whom Hwang provided the strongest proof of the North’s tyranny, had no hesitation laying flowers at Hwang’s mourning altar. For liberals, who show varying degrees of support to the North and despise the conservatives’ hard-line approach, the decision was a lot trickier.

While the mourning altar at Seoul Asan Medical Center was crowded with conservatives on Monday, some liberals made a visit to show respect to the late Workers’ Party secretary.

The Democratic Party’s floor leader Park Jie-won led a small delegation and paid a visit to the altar yesterday afternoon.

“Personally, I had many problems with Hwang,” Park said. “But generosity to a dead is our beautiful custom. A delegation will express condolences today.” Park also made clear that his group’s visit was not an official show of mourning by the Democratic Party.

The party’s new chairman, Sohn Hak-kyu, however, was a no-show. But his chief of staff Yang Seung-jo came to mourn Hwang.

The Democratic Labor Party and the New Jinbo Party, which are further left on the ideological spectrum, had no plans to send delegates.

The two parties criticized yesterday the conservatives’ move to award Hwang a national honor and bury him at the National Cemetery in Seoul.

“Separately from paying tribute to the dead, we wonder how Hwang improved our lives,” said Kim Jong-cheol, spokesman of the New Jinbo Party. “His words and behavior of the last years of his life actually increased tensions between the two Koreas.”

Blue House Chief of Staff Yim Tae-hee visited the altar yesterday on behalf of President Lee Myung-bak. “Hwang had seen the grief of history,” Lee was quoted as saying by Yim. “It is the state’s responsibility to take care of him when he is alive and after dead. We will do our best for him to rest in peace.”

Minister of Public Administration and Security Maeng Hyung-kyu visited Hwang’s altar and personally delivered the Grand Order of Mugunghwa, the highest civilian award given by the government. A national honor is a requirement for Hwang to be buried at the National Cemetery, and the Ministry of Unification had requested the cabinet provide him a medal.

“Hwang accurately revealed the reality of North Korea, allowing us to reinforce our security posture,” said Maeng. “He was also devoted to the democratization of North Korea, so the government conferred the posthumous honor.”

Former President Kim Young-sam, the honorary head of Hwang’s funeral committee, also paid a visit to the altar yesterday. On Monday, former Grand National Chairwoman Park Geun-hye also laid a flower at the altar.

By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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