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Is a Handshake for Peace Possible?

Posted June. 04, 2005 06:44,   


“Isn’t it time to make peace with him?”

Kim Young-sam (YS) refused to answer this question, when asked by a journalist who visited his house in Sangdo-dong, Dongjak-gu, Seoul on May 27, regarding his willingness to reconcile with former President Kim Dae-jung (DJ).

The topic of interview changed to the scandal of Korea Railroad’s Russian oil development. The journalist reports that Representative Lee Kwang-jae seemed to be fooled by the malicious tactics of Jeon Dae-wol. YS replied that those who have “Dae” in their name tend to be troublesome, a response that hinted at his ill feelings toward DJ.

Some in political circles are pushing for the reconciliation between YS and DJ. The “Group of Representatives for National Unity” is going to hold a discussion to review the performance of the two former presidents on June 15 in the National Assembly Memorial Hall in commemoration of the fifth anniversary of the June 15 inter-Korean summit meeting. Representative Jung Eui-hwa of the GNP (Grand National Party), a head of this group, said, “The second discussion will be held in Gwangju in September, and the third one will be held in Mount Jiri in November.” He added, “Details of the discussions will be compiled into a book. Also, an event is planned to bring YS and DJ together at the end of this year. At the event, they will be given a chance to shake hands and the book will be given to them.”

However, considering the implication of the reply by YS, it appears highly unlikely that the two will shake hands with pleasure. There still is a chilly tension between the two sides. YS uses malicious remarks such as “liar,” “dictator,” and “cheater” when referring to DJ. Meanwhile, DJ refuses to respond to such spiteful remarks and tries to mince words.

“DJ thinks that he is the real and final victor. YS thinks DJ abuses YS’s bad image as a president who did harm to the nation,” said a high-profile figure who knows both YS and DJ well, explaining the reason why the two are on bad terms.

Right after DJ won the presidential election in 1997, there were signs of reconcilement, since YS remained neutral during the election and rejected the call from the GNP for investigation of the “slash fund of DJ.” However, the relationship turned irrecoverably sour due to investigations into the inner circles of YS, the public hearing and the case of Kim Hyun-cheol, the second son of YS.

In addition to these reasons, there is a long-standing antagonism between the two, who were pitted against each other on many issues such as the candidacy of the Shinmin Party in 1970, “Seoul Spring (the political transitional period from October 26,1979 to May 17, 1980),” and negotiations over candidacy in 1987.

At the 21st anniversary of the foundation of the Consultation Committee for Democracy (Minchuhyup) in the National Assembly, on May 17, the head of the committee, Kim Sang-hyun regrettably said, “It is a pity that YS and DJ remain on bad terms after causing conflicts among democracy activists. We all should feel the moral responsibility for causing hostility between the two.”

Unfortunately, YS and DJ show lukewarm attitudes to the call for reconcilement. Nevertheless, some are deriving hope for the reconcilement from the fact that the two sides are in the twilight years of their lives, YS in his late 70s and DJ in his 80s. It is regrettable to think that this hopeful prospect could be merely wishful thinking by some in political circles.

Dong-Joo KIM eastphil@donga.com