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[Opinion] The Prime Minister’s Official Residence

Posted August. 16, 2005 03:09,   


The prime minister’s official residence, which is located in Samcheong-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, and is a five-minute drive from Cheong Wa Dae, has not always just been the prime minister’s residence. Former President Choi Kyu-ha, who assumed the presidency as a result of the assassination of his predecessor Park Chung-hee in October 1979, resided there for a while. General Chun Doo-hwan, who staged a military coup on December 12, 1979 (called The December 12 Incident), obtained presidential approval that allowed the arrest of Chung Seung-hwa, then Army Chief of Staff, by using the power of Roh Jae-hyun, then Minister of Defense, there.

Until the mid-Joseon period, the Taehwa Palace stood on the current site of the prime minister’s official residence. Approaching the end of the Joseon Dynasty, King Gojong granted the palace to Lee Yun-yong, then minister of defense, which was later used as the house of Min Kyu-sik, family members of the last Empress Myeongseong, and as a building of the Gyeongseong Electronic Company. In the wake of the establishment of the Republic of Korea in 1948, the head of the National Assembly resided in this place temporarily. As Song Yo-chan, then prime minister, began to use this place as his residence in 1961, it was firmly recognized that this was the prime minister’s official residence. Mt. Pukak and Samcheong Park are located nearby the residence and make the place known for its beautiful view. Seonghyun, a famous scholar during the King Seongjong regime of the Joseon Dynasty, even called this area the most beautiful place in Seoul.

However, such a beautiful view doesn’t seem to be enough to purify the mind of a resident. Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan has made inappropriate remarks often at meetings and press conferences held at the official residence. For example, Prime Minister Lee has been under attack due to his remarks at a recent press conference when he said, “Among the current governors of provinces and city mayors, there are none who can be qualified to be president. Speaking of politics, I am much more professional than Sohn Hak-kyu, governor of Gyeonggi Province.”

Despite this, he has put his foot into his mouth again. At a dinner party held at the official residence to welcome the North Korean delegation which had visited South Korea to participate in the 8.15 national unification festival, Lee said, “While actively devoting myself to a 20-year democratic struggle, I realized that we couldn’t achieve national unification without breaking down the military dictatorship,” adding, “The prime minister’s official residence is the product of past democratic struggles.” Does this mean that other previous prime ministers illegally occupied this place? And in regard to the democratization that was achieved at the expense of many people’s sacrifices and with entire nations’ effort, Lee seems to be convinced that all the credit should go to democratic activists. Lee’s absurd arrogance may be tarnishing the status of the Prime Minister’s official residence further.

Song Young-eon, Editorial Writer, youngeon@donga.com