Towards unity and harmonyThe country is united in mourning the late President Kim Young-sam, who died on Sunday. An altar set up at Seoul National University Hospital drew a rare gathering of all the incumbent and former presidents; leaders in politics, business and social activism; members of the pro-democracy movement; and citizens of all stripes.
His last words written to his son were a plea for “unity and harmony.” Because of the turbulent days under the military regime and the historic transition to democracy, the late Kim lived most of his life challenging, struggling and fighting rather than seeking harmony. Some of his battles were with just cause, but others stemmed from his own ambitions. The legacy of his conflicts continues to this day.
Kim risked his life fighting against the governments of Park Chung Hee and Chun Doo Hwan, which were born from military coups. His famous quote, “Dawn will come even if the rooster is strangled,” epitomized the country’s yearning for democracy. He staged the longest-ever hunger strike of 23 days to demand changes for democracy.
But he also had a falling out with fellow dissident Kim Dae-jung ahead of the first direct presidential election in 1987, splitting the votes and allowing Chun Doo Hwan’s hand-picked successor, Roh Tae-woo, to win. He then joined hands with Roh’s forces to alienate Kim Dae-jung’s political base. Regional hostility and ideological conflict remain as never-ending disputes between the conservative and liberal forces. He kept loyal to his later conversion as a conservative, criticizing President Kim Dae-jung’s policies about North Korea and the governance of the subsequent liberal president Roh Moo-hyun. The two democratic factions are estranged to this day.
The legacy of the two Kims has formally ended. But Korean society is still fissured regionally, ideologically and politically. The National Assembly is strained with endless arguments over history books, responses to the Sewol ferry disaster, anti-government protests and bills under political hostage. The ruling Saenuri Party lauded Kim as “a great nine-term legislator,” while the main opposition remembered him as “pro-democracy movement leader.” The two rivaling parties are using his legacy in their favor. The late Kim was the country’s first civilian president and a political leader who stayed close to the people during both the hard and good days. We must try harder to create a country in unity and harmony to remember his last wishes.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 24, Page 30