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[Opinion] Libraries Honoring Former Presidents

Posted October. 20, 2003 22:58,   


In the U.S., since the President Roosevelt Library was built, the tradition of building a library to honor presidents was started. Currently, about 10 former presidents have libraries honoring them, including Presidents Kennedy, Carter, Bush and Reagan. Former President Bill Clinton’s one, named the “William Jefferson Clinton Center,” is being built beside the Arkansas River in Little Rock, Arkansas, the state’s capital, where Clinton was previously the governor. Recently, Mr. Clinton published and sold cooking books at $35 each to finance the building cost of the center. The center will include a museum, classrooms, and an exhibition hall.

It is attracting attention that Clinton’s is referred to as the “President Center” while the other presidents called theirs “Libraries.” Some people are cynical about its name, saying it was because Clinton worried that “Library” would be called a “Liebrary.” After he came out of the White House, he has not only done the library works but participated in such politics as the mediation of Democrats in the background. He had his wife elected as the senator of New York state and is said to support Wesley Clark, former commander of NATO forces, in the race for the Democratic nominee for president.

In Korea, there are now eight former presidents but no presidential library. Although there was a suggestion to change the museum honoring former President Park Jung-hee into a library and rebuild it in Sang-am dong, Mapo-gu in Seoul, the suggestion has not seen much progress because of some people’s strong objections. Former President Cheon Du-hwan founded the Il-hae Foundation with the money he collected from the big companies, but after the public criticized it, he dedicated the foundation to the government, which is now the Sejong Research Institution. Under the current situation, where former presidents lavished the money although not paying the fines of some hundreds of billion won levied on them, it seems impossible to build even a small library. Anyway, it is unfortunate that we have no presidential library because former presidents were judged to be dictators or indicted.

Yonsei University will rename the Asia-Pacific Foundation, which former President Kim Dae-jung donated, as the “Kim Dae-jung Library” and open it on November 3. It seems a good idea to change the Asia-Pacific Foundation, which faced continual criticism during President Kim’s administration, into the first presidential library. Although the diplomats and high-level officials of Kim Dae-jung administration are invited to the opening ceremony, the politicians will not be included on the visitors’ list. Some people paid attention to former President Kim due to the break-up between the Millennium Democratic Party and the new Parliamentary bloc, facing next year’s Parliamentary election. But as the first President to have a library honoring him, he’d better not look to intervene in politics. This is the best way to make the “former presidents’ culture.”

Hwang Ho-taek, hthwang@donga.com