Friday, August 21, 2009

My Take on Kim Dae-Jung's Legacy

Every once and awhile a staff reporter from the Korea Times writes a few foreign contributers and asks for our opinion regarding big political issues on the peninsula. I'm sure a few fellow K-bloggers got the same email. I added my two-cents in a previous article about the Roh scandal last spring, although they did a wonderful job of editing out most of my thoughts.

Here's the email:

This email is to learn how foreigners with deep understanding about the country's modern history evaluate the late Kim and his achievements. An article based on answers to this email will be published on Monday edition.

1. How do you evaluate the late former President Kim Dae-jung as a politician or an pro-democracy activist?

2. What do you think is the most brilliant feat Kim has made during his presidency or throughout his life?

3. Please give us other comments you want to leave.

Kim Dae-jung embodied everything that a Korean politician should. He was came from a poor part of the country, was charismatic, inspiring and revolutionary. His life was one that an industrializing Korea could really relate to since he essentially personified the Korean nations' post-WWII struggle. And while there is no denying his contributions towards the democratization of Korea, I think the real effects of DJ can be witnessed in the uncompromising zeal of his supporters and the stagnation of serious and positive rapprochement with North Korea.

Just as we are now seeing with Roh Myu-Hyun supporters leaving the Minju party to create their own, Kim Dae-jung aroused similar enthusiasm and contempt for civil bipartisanship. Politcos and staunch supporters from the DJ-era refuse to acknowledge election mandates and laws passed under any opposition party. Rather than using the many democratic avenues that DJ fought to establish, they resort to lynch-mob discourse and petty branding, i.e., "Lee Myung-bak is a dictator." The sheer emotionalism connected to DJ has somewhat disconnected his message and followers from pursuing a true democratic society. Losing an election is part of the system. Refusing to accept a loss is part of the problem.

*The GOP in the US is suffering from the same delusions.

Secondly, DJ was known for his failed 'Sunshine Policy'. He was praised the world over and even received the Nobel Peace Prize, however, the consequences of appeasing such tyranny are pretty clear. By legitimizing the leadership of North Korea, DJ delayed reunification in more ways than one can count. Offering financial aid under the guise of joint economic development might have sold the project, but it's clear now that it paved the way for the Kim Regime to solidify its power, manipulate South Korea and expand illegal operations both domestically and around the globe. Still today, South Korea and the rest of the world must deal with the mishandled wranglings of Kim Dae-jung who naively rewarded Northern inaction, belligerency and flat out hostility. A unified Korea is a wonderful dream, but the achievement of that dream can only be realized wisely. North Korea behaves the way it does because it was taught by Kim Dae-jung's Sunshine Policy that it's bad behavior will be met with aid rather than sanctions.

I'm not so sure this what the Times was looking for, but that's what they got.

His story is one to be impressed with and that's what Koreans buy into. But leading a divided nation takes much more than a compelling story.


Alex said...

I think that's a pretty honest response, and I agree with it for the most part.

The Expat said...

I also should mention how he rekindled latent regionalism as well, but I'm not so sure it wasn't Roh who didn't through most of that fuel in that fire.