Go to contents

PM Hasina and Park Chung-hee

Posted May. 18, 2010 05:07,   


In December 1964, President Park Chung-hee and his wife visited the Ruhr coal mining region while visiting West Germany. At the time, some 3,500 Koreans were working in West Germany as miners and nurses, jobs that were shunned by Germans due to poor working conditions. Due to the lack of job opportunities in Korea, there were those who lied about not having college degrees so that they could work in West Germany. Many others rubbed their hands on briquettes to make their hands look rough at job interviews. Korea was one of the poorest countries in the world with a per capita income of under 100 U.S. dollars.

When First Lady Yook Young-soo asked, “Where are your hometowns,” Korean nurses burst into tears due to being lonely and homesick in a foreign land. When participants at the gathering sang the Korean national anthem, the Korean miners and nurses, the president and his wife, presidential aides and journalists all wept. Delivering words of encouragement amid the emotional atmosphere, President Park put aside his prepared speech and said, “I know you’re very lonely because you miss your families and hometowns so much, but I hope you remember why you’re here in this distant foreign land. Let’s do our best to honor the dignity of our motherland. We might not achieve it in our lifetimes, but let’s lay the foundation for prosperity for our descendents like others do.”

Miners and nurses cried out, saying, “We want to return to our hometowns,” and “When can we better off?” The miners gave a big bow to President Park and accompanying West German President Heinrich Luebke, saying, “Please help Korea, and we’ll do our best. We’ll do whatever we’re told to do.” A deeply moved Luebke pledged economic aid to Korea.

Visiting Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is known to have met Bangladeshi migrant workers in Korea, and given words of encouragement. This is reminiscent of the scene 46 years ago of the Korean miners and nurses who cried when meeting President Park. Hasina told the migrant workers, “The foreign currency you earn through hard work and transfer to Bangladesh is making contributions to economic development, and I’m very grateful,” comments that are also familiar. Bangladesh is an impoverished country with a per capita income of 574 dollars per year. Great strides are expected from the South Asian nation, however, given Bangladesh’s gradual progress through a market-friendly economic policy. The younger generation in Korea, who know little about the extreme poverty their country suffered several decades ago, should also remember the rough road that generations before them endured, as well as the tears and sweat that went into building the Republic of Korea.

Editorial Writer Kwon Sun-hwal (shkwon@donga.com)