How YS trusted the people“I will drive out the military dictatorship of Chun Doo Hwan, who seized power illegally, and bring democracy to this country,” former President Kim Young-sam said before the 50 members of the Alpine Club for Democracy at the top of Mount Dobong in early 1985.
Members included the late Lee Min-woo, late Kim Dong-young, Choi Hyung-woo, Kim Deog-ryong, Lee Won-jong and Hong In-kil, and their faces were determined. It was my first assignment as a JoongAng Ilbo political reporter covering the opposition party, and I was deeply impressed by the gentle yet determined Kim Young-sam and his passionate supporters. Kim said, “Once you reach the mountaintop, you must climb down.” He meant that the new military regime had nowhere to go but down.
Frankly, I’d never imagine that their outcries would turn into gigantic waves. I thought they were banging their heads against a brick wall. The military regime was high and solid like the Manjang Peak, and the opposition had become shattered by cruel suppression.
However, the small flame spread into a blazing democratization movement, and the June protests swept up the country like roaring waves. The Council for Promotion of Democracy was formed, and the New Democratic Party was founded and won the general election. The Democratic Korea Party collapsed, and activists rallied for revision of the constitution for a direct election. The tear gas was horrible, but I have always felt proud to have witnessed the turmoil of history at the scene as a reporter. The pinnacle of the fight for democratization was the wave of demonstrators from Sinchon to Ahyeon Overpass to Seodaemun Overpass to City Hall a few days before the June 29 Declaration in 1987 which led to a five-year single presidential term. Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung, both of whom later became presidents of Korea, were at the front row of the rally. That day, the two great politicians were full of dignity and courage.
Kim Dae-jung was the symbol of suppression, having been sentenced to death, imprisoned, abducted, nearly assassinated and sent to exile during the dictatorial rule. Compared to Kim Dae-jung, Kim Young-sam may seem to have suffered less. But Kim also risked his life in a 23-day-long hunger strike. He was also the icon of struggle and resistance by integrating the opposition and constantly organizing rallies. The democratization of Korea was made possible by the two symbols of persecution and resistance spearheading the movement to realize the desire of the people for freedom and liberty. No one can argue that the two Kims are the two greatest contributors to Korean democracy.
When I paid a visit to the mourning altar of Kim Young-sam, I asked for the last time, “Are you satisfied with the democracy you had led to accomplish in this country?” Kim was smiling in his portrait, as if he was saying, “Needless to say!”
Kim said the dawn will come even if the rooster is strangled. The dawn has come, but the sun hasn’t come up yet. There are concerns of “crisis in Korea’s democracy” these days. Some say Korea’s democracy is half-baked and broken. While the formality and framework of democracy have been established, the operation may still seem immature.
Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung have served as presidents, so they may also be somewhat responsible. However, they had sufficiently served their roles by creating the frames of democracy and helped soft-land the system. Now, their next generation’s job was to bloom the flowers of democracy from the seeds they planted. But they don’t seem to be capable as they lead politics today. It is truly regrettable.
The two Kims have passed away, and Kim Jong-pil is also very old. The politics of the three Kims are passing into history. The factional politics of the political veterans have come to an end. Perhaps, the era of such political giants will never come again.
The three Kims’ politics was criticized for aggravation of regional antagonism and undemocratic practices of crony politics. In fact, their style is out of fashion in the diversified modern society. A new era should be opened with a new political culture. However, the negative elements of the old politics remain today, while new leadership to replace their charisma and leadership is nowhere to be found. In the vacuum of political leadership, the politicians are divided over state-authored history textbooks today. They encourage discord and confrontation and focus on the politics of collusion.
What’s most ridiculous is how they always mention the citizens. Politicians like to say their views are “what the citizens want” and threaten that “the people won’t tolerate.” But the citizens are actually sick and tired of their rhetoric. When democracy should be the politics for the people, by the people, of the people, they are pursuing politics for the politicians, making excuses with citizens and taking them hostage.
The three Kims had the outstanding insight to read the zeitgeist, fought without compromise, persuade as necessary and made concessions for the greater causes. Their successors need to learn from their virtues. They cannot overcome the shadows of the three Kims with such narrow-minded politics.
Integrate and unite, Kim Young-sam said. His will is a challenge, but it certainly is the most important task Korea is left with today. Dear Mr. Kim, we, Koreans will make it. You trusted the power of the people. Please leave the task to the next generation and rest in peace.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 26, Page 33
*The author is a visiting professor of media content at Halla University.
by Heo Nam-jin