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[Opinion] “Spies for the Democracy Movement”

Posted November. 18, 2004 23:06,   


The special law on compensating and restoring the honor of those involved in the democracy movement defines “democracy movements” as “activities engaged in from August 7, 1969 onward in opposition of the authoritarian regime, that contributed to the establishment of a constitutional democracy and the enhancement of the people’s rights and freedoms.” The date of August 7, 1969 marks the beginning of the movement against long-term rule by a single individual, following the submission of a constitutional amendment for President Park Jung-hee’s third term. The rationale behind compensating democracy activists is that they struggled against former authoritarian governments, who “breached the basic order of free democracy and violated the basic rights of citizens as outlined in the Constitution,” at great personal sacrifice.

The Presidential Truth Commission on Suspicious Deaths (PTCSD) is causing controversy by repeatedly demanding the government to compensate for the deaths of North Korean spies to the South who died as a result of fasting or torture during incarceration. Are North Korean spies really democracy activists who “contributed to the establishment of a constitutional democracy and the elevation of the people’s rights and freedoms”? The PTCSD contends that “demanding the abolition of the evil Social Safety Law amounts to activities for the promotion of the people’s freedom and rights.” When the Democratization Compensation Committee overruled the petition on the grounds that the persons recommended for compensation were spies against South Korea who did not recognize the R.O.K. as a legitimate state, the PTCSD appealed for a reevaluation. It is baffling why the PTCSD is being so tenacious on this issue.

Of course, even in the case of spies against the South, it is wrong to kill long-term prisoners by torture, especially if they are not even on death row. But there are few who would agree that their honor should be restored as democracy activists and their deaths compensated accordingly. Because the PTCSD is pursuing an action so widely diverging from public opinion, its other, meaningful activities are being tarnished by association. If we recognize North Korean spies who negated our constitutional order and threatened our national security as participants in the democracy movement, the nation’s identity itself will fall into confusion.

During the days of the authoritarian regimes, many Koreans were executed or died under suspicious circumstances after being implicated in pro-communist plots engineered by the government for its own stability. The PTCSD must thoroughly investigate such instances and clear the names of the wrongfully dead. And its activities must stop there. It should not try to package those who were sent from the North to destroy our free democracy in the wrappings of democratic martyrdom. If we allow freedom to the enemies of freedom, we will plunge the democratic system itself into peril.

Hwang Ho-taek, Editorial Writer. hthwang@donga.com