What They Said is a regular series on the quotes Korea is talking about.
The Death of Roh Tae-woo
South Korea’s sixth president Roh Tae-woo passed away on October 26, 2021. Though he was the first president in South Korea to be elected in a free and fair election by popular vote in 1988, his presidency was closely linked to military dictatorship due to his involvement in the December 12 coup in 1979 and the illegal private military organization Hanahoe, created by Chun Doo-hwan. In October 1995, he was accused of amassing hundreds of millions of dollars in secret political donations. He apologized for this but only ended up arousing public anger even more.
In 1995, in the first trial regarding the December 12 coup, he was sentenced to 22 years and six months in prison, which was reduced to 17 years and six months in the appellate court. In 1997, he was pardoned by the then President Kim Young-sam in agreement with the president-elect Kim Dae-jung.
Unlike Chun Doo-hwan, Roh Tae-woo had paid all of the fines from his illegally gained wealth in 2013. Due to his deteriorating health, he had not made public appearances for a long time and lived rather quietly until his death last week. In addition, his son had paid visits to Gwangju in his stead and apologized for the massacre, although a recording from a 1995 high school reunion revealed Roh claiming that, compared to China’s Cultural Revolution, the Gwangju Massacre was nothing.
Roh Tae-woo’s family issued a statement announcing his death:
Our beloved father, former President Roh Tae-woo, passed away on the afternoon of October 26 following a long illness.
We would like to express our gratitude to many people for their condolences and kind words and would like to share with you the words our father left before his death.
Our father said, “I was truly grateful and honored to be able to humbly accept the fate that was handed to me and serve the great Republic of Korea and its people. I have done the best I could, but for my shortcomings and errors I ask for your deepest forgiveness.”
He wanted his funeral to be as frugal as possible in accordance with the national law, and he said that he hoped that the “peaceful reunification of the two Koreas, which was not achieved in his lifetime, will be achieved by the next generation”.
— Roh Tae-woo’s children, October 26, 2021.
Due to Roh being a convicted criminal, there were discussions about how his funeral should be held and whether he could be buried at the national cemetery. Kim Bu-gyeom, the current prime minister, quelled the debate on October 27, 2021.
Yesterday, former President Roh Tae-woo passed away. Together with the members of the State Council, I express my deepest sorrow about the passing of former President Roh Tae-woo and send my deepest condolences to the bereaved family. The deceased made many contributions to our country’s national development while serving as the president of the 13th term. The government will host this funeral as a state funeral to commemorate the achievements of the deceased together with the people and make every effort to treat him with respect. I ask the relevant ministries, including the Ministry of the Interior and Safety, to prepare thoroughly for the funeral so that nothing will be left neglected.
— Kim Bu-gyeom, prime minister of South Korea, October 27, 2021.
It was decided that Roh cannot be buried at the national cemetery, however. His family had also expressed Roh’s wish to be buried in the city of Paju.
Though many politicians from all parties offered words of respect to Roh Tae-woo at the news of his death, civic organizations related to the Gwangju May 18 Democratization Movement voiced their objection to his funeral being held as a state funeral.
The national treasury is to pay the funeral expenses of a criminal who was sentenced to 17 years in prison and over ₩260 billion in fines under the charges of the December 12 military coup d’etat, complicity in the massacre of Gwangju citizens in the May 18 Democratization Movement, treason, and bribery. This death could have been mourned quietly.
At a cabinet meeting on the morning of October 27, the government made the decision to hold the funeral of Roh Tae-woo, the first president to be elected by popular vote, as a state funeral. By holding a state funeral, it wishes to commemorate the deceased’s achievements with the people and do everything it can to treat him with respect. The purpose of the State Funeral Act is to contribute to the unity of the people by holding a funeral in the event of the death of a person who has made significant contributions to the country and society. The decision to host a state funeral can be made by the government at its discretion or for political reasons.
However, we express our strong regret regarding the government’s decision to hold a state funeral for one who has violated the country’s constitution. For the massacre in May 1980, which he was also responsible for as part of the new military regime, he never apologized directly to the citizens and people of Gwangju. In The Memoirs of Roh Tae-woo published in 2011, he even asserted that the cause of the May 18 Democratization Movement was that “the citizens of Gwangju were deceived by rumors”.
We express our regret at the decision to hold a state funeral and make clear our objection to his burial in the national cemetery. It is unreasonable to bury the person responsible for the massacre of citizens in a national cemetery at this time, when we are in the process of investigating the truth about the May 18 incident. The burial in a national cemetery is also related to the dignity of the nation beyond simple mourning and remembrance.
National unity, reconciliation and forgiveness are possible on the premise of full reflection and apology. The murderers have never apologized to the citizens [of Gwangju], and we have never received an apology.
— The May 18 Memorial Foundation, October 27, 2021.
An OhMyNews article also looked back on an aspect of the Roh Tae-woo administration and its errors:
In June 1990, as a first year student in college, I enlisted in the military. After completing six weeks of military training, I became a member of the combat police force. I was deployed to the 1st Riot Police Squadron in Dongdaemun, close to the college I attended. …
After being assigned to the task force, I was mobilized to suppress rallies and protests not only at the school I attended but also throughout the city. Then, in October 1990, the war on crime began. The war on crime I remember was a pan-societal security policy that was not limited to eradicating gangsters. …
And that war was aimed at the student movement, which was the heart of the democratization movement at the time. In April 1991, the policy on suppressing rallies and protests was changed, from the previous dissolution-oriented operation to an arrest-oriented operation.
A third of the riot police squadron was organized as a plainclothes police force and, regardless of my wishes, I became a member of the Baekgoldan. Senior police officers during the suppression operations carried iron pipes wrapped in black tape, and their shields were used as weapons rather than a means of defense. The repression was aggressive, and the resistance intensified. …
On April 26, 1991, Kang Kyong-dae, a Myongji University student, was beaten and killed by police officers in plain clothes. It was a foreseen event. When I heard the news, while on a suppression operation, my first thought was, “We can kill people.” …
What I did, what Roh Tae-woo made me do, was not my duty for national defense, nor was it for civil liberties and democracy in our society; I was merely a servant and a shield for the military regime.
In May 1991, triggered by Kang Kyong-dae’s murder, more people died at the hands of the government. …
— Park Seok-jin, Civilian Military Watch, November 1, 2021.
Ahn Cheol-soo’s presidential candidacy announcement
On November 1, Ahn Cheol-soo announced that he was going to enter the presidential race. This is his third time running for the presidency, following the elections in 2012 and 2017.
My first vision for Korea is to build a “science and technology-centered nation”.
When did we become a country without dreams?
The goal of national growth vanished while the ruling powers were stuck in partisan politics, the divisive thinking from the past, and the pre-modern thinking of the traditional four classes.
In order to solve these problems, we desperately need a scientist president who has common sense and rationality, and who puts fact-based scientific thinking at the center of state affairs.
Along with a drastic reorganization of the government, I will create the position of deputy prime minister for science and technology, and transform the government into a science and technology-centered state system.
I will become a president who solves the national growth engine and future food problems with the power of advanced science and advanced technology. …
The world’s best science and technology country, this is my lifelong dream. I will make this dream a reality.
To this end, I will become a “strategic president” who focuses on the nation’s core strategic tasks, not an “imperial president” who oversees everything.
I will halve the size of Cheong Wa Dae, and put a responsible prime minister and responsible ministers at the center of this country’s national administration with authority and accountability.
Through this, I will usher in a heyday of technocrats, where professional bureaucrats with expertise, rather than political bureaucrats colluding with Yeouido, will become the center of public service.
I will also change the political culture.
I will actualize the coalition of the ruling party, opposition parties, and the government, which has disappeared under this administration, and have regular meetings between the president and party leaders.
I will communicate and talk openly with the ruling and opposition legislators and provincial governors, and I will cooperate with what I can cooperate with and generously support what I can support.
Even if there is a change of government, the structure of the minority ruling party and majority opposition parties will not change for another two years. The reality is that it is difficult to achieve any reform without the cooperation of the National Assembly.
Through the realization of parliamentary democracy that recognizes the National Assembly as a true partner in state affairs, I will be remembered as a president who changed the political culture along with successful state management.
A clean and moral president and Cheong Wa Dae are issues of national dignity and esteem.
Only a clean president can do a good job.
I owe nothing to the vested interests, so I can be more determined about corruption than any other candidate.
Don’t you think that I am the cleanest candidate?
I dare say I am the only candidate who would be able to finish my term as the cleanest president.
If elected, I will undergo a mid-term evaluation.
So far, the promises presidential candidates have made to the people, saying that they will keep them no matter what, have vanished once they have been elected president. Even the promises of their inaugural addresses are thrown away like old shoes. Such false politics must end.
After being elected, I will step down without protest if, in the middle of my term of office, I do not gain the approval of more than 50% of the public through a survey method agreed upon by the ruling and opposition parties, or if my party does not win the most seats in the 22nd general election.
I recommend that all other candidates also pledge to have mid-term evaluations.
Without this level of confidence, you should not run as a candidate. …
I, Ahn Cheol-soo, really want to revive the Republic of Korea. If you think that Korea cannot continue like this, give me a chance. I will work day and night and spare no effort. …
— Ahn Cheol-soo, People Party presidential candidate, November 1, 2021.
South Korea’s presidential election will be held on March 9, 2022.