The state funeral for former President Kim Dae-jung yesterday was concluded in a peaceful and orderly manner. Ending 85 years of an eventful life, he was buried at Seoul National Cemetery. The world and Korea expressed deep condolences over his death in the six days of national mourning. The funeral was as solemn as Kims lifelong dedication to democratization, human rights and peace.
The funeral fortunately proceeded in a calm and reconciliatory atmosphere. In contrast, the funeral for former President Roh Moo-hyun in late May was tainted by attempts to express contempt and instigate conflict over the criminal investigation into Roh and his suicide. Some tried to take political advantage of his death. Fortunately, Kims funeral was free from this. Even those who held old grudges or had a strong rivalry against Kim and his aides came to pay their respects. Some also volunteered to be the chief mourner. The reconciliatory mood was prevalent at Kims funeral, and the government and his bereaved family cooperated well. Maintaining such a spirit of reconciliation and harmony is the best way to truly honor the deceased.
Now that Korea has bid farewell to Kim, it is time to move beyond the era of Kim Dae-jung, which was defined by his long quest for democracy but also by division, conflict and regionalism. The country also struggled with this negative and outdated legacy during and after Kims presidency.
The administration and the ruling party have a huge role to play in political reform. The main opposition Democratic Party should also respect parliamentary democracy based on the principles of dialogue, compromise and majority rule if it prides itself on being the legitimate successor of Kim, who had strong faith in the system. The starting point is to participate in the regular parliamentary session starting Sept. 1. The opposition should join the discussion on proposed reform of national elections and administration, as well as eradicating regionalism and political conflict. Many other issues await immediate attention for promoting public welfare.
Since 1987, two horizontal transitions of power have occurred between conservative and progressive. As a result, the negative practices of the military dictatorship era dissipated and democracy was achieved. Unfortunately, Korean politics is still struggling with the old debate of democracy vs. anti-democracy. This is no longer valid at a time when the media and public can criticize the government without hesitation, and law enforcement authorities have to be always conscious of demonstrators. Therefore, a crisis of democracy should be understood in the context that rule of law is collapsing.
In his final diary entry, Kim wrote, Life is beautiful and history progresses. It is time for Korea to move on from its long struggle for democracy to becoming an advanced nation where rule of law is respected and everyone can lead a better life. That would be what Kim meant by history progresses and how the nation can meet the needs of the times.