Moon Jae-in honors promise to mourn mentor Roh Moo-hyun after term ends
Over 8,000 people, including leaders of the conservative People Power Party (PPP), officials of the Yoon Suk-yeol administration and liberal Democratic Party (DP) members marked the 13th anniversary of Roh's suicide at his grave in Bongha Village, his rural hometown in Gimhae, South Gyeongsang.
Moon, accompanied by former first lady Kim Jung-sook, attended the ceremony just two weeks after his five-year term as president ended. They joined Roh's widow, Kwon Yang-sook.
Moon's return to Bongha Village was fulfillment of a promise he made at the beginning of his term not to return until he had become a "successful president."
Members of the Yoon administration, including Prime Minister Han Duck-soo, Interior Minister Lee Sang-min and Kim Dae-ki, the presidential chief of staff, attended, as did PPP Chairman Lee Jun-seok. Han, appointed on Saturday, served as prime minister from 2007 to 2008 under Roh. It was the first time conservative government officials attended a memorial service for Roh in such large numbers.
Attendees from the DP included defeated presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung, Yun Ho-jung and Park Ji-hyun, co-chairs of the DP's emergency steering committee, floor leader Park Hong-keun, former party chair Lee Nak-yon and former Finance Minister Kim Dong-yeon.
Former Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun, who served in the Kim Dae-jung and Roh administrations, said in the ceremony, "Even after you are gone, the efforts you made throughout your life remains relevant for our society to this day."
Roh served as president from 2003 to 2008. He committed suicide on May 23, 2009, 24 days after being questioned by prosecutors about a bribery scandal implicating his relatives and 15 months after leaving the Blue House.
This was the first such memorial Moon attended since May 2017, less than two weeks after he was elected president. Roh was Moon's political mentor and longtime friend and Moon served as his senior secretary for civil affairs and chief of staff.
In a speech at the 2017 ceremony, Moon said, "President Roh Moo-hyun, I miss you, I miss you ever so dearly. But during the rest of my term, I shall keep you in my heart only. This is to be the last time that I attend this memorial ceremony as standing president."
He continued, "I promise you that I will come to see you after completing my mission as a successful president. I hope you will then greet me with a bright smile, saying 'Ah, it feels good!' just the way you used to."
Earlier this month, Moon and his wife moved to a newly constructed retirement home in Pyeongsan Village in Yangsan, South Gyeongsang, around 50 minutes by car from Bongha Village. This was Moon's first public activity since his retirement.
Thousands of mourners from around the country flocked to Bongha Village to remember the late Roh. Many attendees of the ceremony wore yellow hats, distributed by the Roh Moo-hyun Foundation, the organizer of the ceremony. Yellow is the symbolic color of Roh and his supporters. The theme of the ceremony was: "I am the waking river."
President Yoon Suk-yeol, who visited Bongha Village during his campaign, didn't attend the ceremony but sent flowers and delivered a letter to Roh's widow Kwon through his chief of staff.
Earlier Monday morning when asked to comment on Roh's memorial service, Yoon told reporters at the Yongsan presidential office, "It was very sad and tragic for Korean politics," referring to the suicide. He offered words of condolences to Kwon.
The large numbers of conservatives attending the service was part of Yoon's efforts toward national unity. He personally attended a ceremony marking the 42nd anniversary of the May 18 Gwangju Democratization Movement with 100 PPP lawmakers last week.
This was the first time the ceremony was not limited in size since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. For Roh's 11th and 12th death anniversaries, the ceremony was downsized and streamed virtually.
BY SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]