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[Opinion] Posthumous Honors

Posted December. 02, 2002 23:01,   


When Serge Gainsbourg, a French singer known for his eccentricity, died on March 2 in 1991, the daily Liberation remembered him in a very unusual way. The newspaper filled the day`s edition with stories about the late singer and printed a larger volume than usual. The dedication to Gainsbourg, a bohemian singer and songwriter who used to sing a song with a cigarette in his mouth and burn bills on stage, was all sold out. The reaction by readers had something to do with French people`s love for the great artist, but it was also closely related to their tolerance toward the dead. This unique French sentiment has, in fact, been witnessed throughout the country`s history of culture.

▷The French tolerance was also conspicuous in honoring the late socialist President Francois Mitterrand. His mistress and illegitimate daughter attended the funeral and people hardly minded the former President`s extramarital affair. Even considering the French `tol´erance,` which is well known for condoning some 10 to 20% of speed violations at highways, it`s not easy to understand their way of honoring the death.

▷They are indeed eager to pay tribute to the death. The remains of Alexandre Dumas, a French author known for his works such as `The Three Musketeers,` were transferred Saturday to the Pantheon, the state`s official grave of more than 60 luminaries of arts, politics and science. ˝Duma, as a grandson of a salve, was subject to discrimination from his early childhood, and the Republic today is working to improve just that,˝ said President Jacques Chirac in his speech commemorating the 200th anniversary of Duma`s birth. ˝We will continue working for the better future so that people with talent and skills like Duma can find their fair shares in the society.˝

▷Unlike French people, we are reluctant to honor the death. We not only pay little attention to the death of a dignitary, but also often fail to shed a new light on people in the history who did not receive a due treatment during their lifetime. Even there is a saying, `People remember the death of a nobleman`s dog more than a nobleman who is already dead.` This tells Koreans` propensity to curry favor with a man of influence and neglect honoring the death. Now, two government agencies are at odd with each other over the cause of the death of private Huh Won-guen, who died some 20 years ago on duty. We do not expect the government to duly honor those who died unjustly, instead we only ask the least – identify the cause of the death for wandering souls.

Bang Hyung-nam, Editorial Writer, hnbhang@donga.com