Lessons from Roh

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Lessons from Roh

Former U.S. President George W. Bush will visit Bongha Village, where former President Roh Moo-hyun rests in peace, to attend a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of his death on May 23. Bush plans to deliver a portrait of Roh — which he himself painted — to Roh’s widow and read a eulogy. The two leaders hammered out dramatic deals during their terms, such as the controversial Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and a dispatching of South Korean forces to Iraq for peace-keeping missions. In that sense, Bush’s attendance carries great significance.

The theme of the memorial is “Rediscovering Roh Moo-hyun.” One of the values so earnestly championed by Roh was a spirit of integration. During the divisive period when he served as president, he championed “harmony between Gyeongsang and Jeolla Provinces” above all — national integration, in other words — as clearly seen in his proposal for a grand coalition beyond the boundaries of political parties and regions. At a time when hatred and curses have become the new norms in our political landscape, Roh’s farsighted vision is what we need most now.

We hope the shameful scenes we saw in a ceremony last week to commemorate the May 18 Gwangju Democratization Movement are not repeated in the village in South Gyeongsang. Ten years ago today, Roh left a will asking the people to “not hold grudges against others as life and death are just part of our lives.” Without forgiving and reconciliation, integration is impossible. We hope all guests at the memorial behave in a mature way.

Another signature value championed by Roh was pragmatism. Despite his identity as a progressive politician, he took a different approach to national affairs. When it came to economic and diplomatic matters, he prioritized national interests, as evidenced by his bold pushes for a free trade deal with the United States, the sending of our troops to Iraq and the construction of a naval base on Jeju Island despite vehement opposition by his supporters.

He also demonstrated pragmatism in diplomacy with Japan. He discussed the North Korean nuclear program with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, followed by another summit in Jeju to tackle many challenges between Seoul and Tokyo.

Of course, Roh paid a political price. He defined himself as a “neoliberal with leftist ideology” in a sarcastic way. President Moon must learn lessons from his political mentor if he really wants to break the ideological deadlock his administration faces.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 21, Page 30
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