No more divisions over a deathA controversy is brewing again over the question of paying tribute to the former North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, who died of a heart attack on Dec. 17. A group of victims who had suffered from our National Security Law during the democratic movement days attempted to establish an altar in front of Deoksu Palace in central Seoul to pay tribute to the late Defense Commission chairman. But the police said they would block any attempts to set up altars for Kim here. Meanwhile, a civilian group championing reunification without outside intervention announced that its leader had left for Pyongyang without government permission.
Kim Jong-il has left a double-faceted legacy to us. An unparalleled icon of belligerence, he ordered military attacks on our warship Cheonan and on Yeonpyeong Island near the tense maritime border in the Yellow Sea, not to mention the cataclysmic bombing of a Korean jetliner in 1987 and the attempted murder of President Chun Doo Hwan in 1983. He threatened the security of the Korean Peninsula with his persistent nuclear dream. Against such a backdrop, a majority of South Koreans naturally still harbor bad feelings about him.
At the same time, however, Kim helped improve fragile South-North relations, particularly after a historic summit with President Kim Dae-jung in return for a massive economic aid from the South. The Kaesong Industrial Complex, established thanks in part to economy-savvy Kim Jong-il, still remains a seed of hope amid the drastic deterioration of bilateral relations during the Lee Myung-bak administration.
Yet it is totally undesirable for pro-North and conservative civic groups to fight each other over paying tribute to Kim. The government’s decision to allow Lee Hee-ho, the widow of President Kim Dae-jung, and Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun to visit Pyongyang was a strategic - and perhaps painful - one to turn the tide in the current stalemate on the peninsula and establish a positive environment for better bilateral relations and ultimately toward a peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear weapons issue at a critical turning point like this.
Some internal forces’ dismissive and combative attitudes toward the government’s guidelines on the tribute issue will only hinder the further development of bilateral relations. Their unfettered sympathy toward the North at a volatile moment like this goes against the general sentiment of our people. Such disruptive actions do not help the South or the North at all.