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[Opinion] A Secret Place

Posted December. 24, 2007 06:27,   


On March 11, 1993 right after the Kim Young-sam government took power, Dong-A Ilbo carried a meaningful picture which showed a excavator demolishing a house that had been used as a secret place for the politicking of past authoritarian governments. This place was first made known to the public in 1979 when former South Korean president Park Chung-hee was assassinated, and was seen as a symbol of authoritarian dictatorship. By demolishing the place, Kim Young-sam declared an end to closed-door politics. At the 10,000 square meter site which this house stood on, a citizen’s park called ‘Mugunghwa Dongsan’ was built, and many people visit this place now for relaxation.

There were 12 such houses around Cheong Wa Dae in Gungjeong-dong, Cheongun-dong, and Samcheong-dong. The house that first appeared in the 1970s was also used as a place for the entertainment of powerful politicians. After assuming the presidency, Kim Young-sam looked at them and said, “They are just salons to entertain politicians.” In the 1980s they were also used as a place to connect politicians and businessmen, and military officers, agency officials, and prosecutors also often gathered in these places to discuss secret matters.

This type of place is closely associated with the leisure activities of the president. A channel to release stress in different environments is very necessary for those who spend most of their time in the isolated presidential residence.

Contrary to us, the U.S. president openly enjoys extended holidays. Ronald Reagan, a former U.S. president, set a record by taking 436 days leave. However, the current U.S. president George W. Bush is close to breaking that record. During leave, U.S. presidents rest at Camp David, located in the suburbs of Washington, or at Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the southern coast of Boston.

South Korea’s next president, Lee Myung-bak gets to stay in this house until he assumes the presidency for his safety. This house has been used when confidential matters are being discussed. President-elect Lee took a rest at this house last weekend and enjoyed playing tennis with his aides. The way this place is used seems to determine the purpose of the houses—whether they can be used as a safety places, or as a hotbed of corruption.

Gwon Sun-taek, Editorial Writer, maypole@donga.com