Among painters, there is always someone who is good at conveying perspective. Likewise, if we were to talk about a master of our time, who can provide historical perspective by bringing to light obscure matters and explaining them clearly, it would be Kang Man Gil, President of Sangji University. On
Kang: Our nation was ruled by the Japanese for thirty-five years. When
Kim: I asked: how are we to define the modern history of the Korean peninsula and assess the present stage and the remaining historic tasks? He responded that our modern history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was the process of “construction of the national sovereign state” and the remaining task for us in the twenty-first century can be summed up in one word, “construction of a unified national state.” How then are we to gain perspective on issues somewhat removed from state and nation such as class and people?
The emergence of successive governments by Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo Hyun can be seen as the achievement of
But, as recent problems such as credit scandals and the expansion of part-time employment reveal, the problems that are directly connected to the lives of ordinary people, “people problems,” seem to be worsening. How would you assess this situation?
Kang: The reform process after more than thirty years of military dictatorship has not been completed. The Kim Young Sam administration, the first civilian administration, was limited due to its compromise with previous military governments. So, despite having jailed the past two military presidents, the Kim administration failed to carry out thoroughgoing reform.
After Kim Young Sam, the Kim Dae Jung administration was established, but it confronted two unfortunate problems. The first was, again, related to its genesis, which was that it could not emerge on its own and had to rely on collaboration with the May 16th forces. [On
The Roh Moo Hyun administration that followed is the first without the taint of collaboration or compromise with previous non-democratic forces. But at the same time, world history is moving toward strengthening Neo-liberalism and weakening national socialism. In light of this world trend, the Roh administration probably could not avoid the problems posed by the current situation.
Of course, the global neo-liberal trend will confront us for a long time, but eventually, it will be stopped. While the fact that the Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo Hyun administrations are not free from this trend is their misfortune, it is also the misfortune of our nation as a whole. After all, ours is the double-misfortune and double-limitation of being unable to break sharply with our non-democratic past and to overcome neo-liberalism.
Kim: President Kang ‘s opinion was that behind “people problems” there existed “a strong force of Neo-liberalism.” Either way, President Kang clearly distinguished the
The Neo-liberal Challenge to Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo Hyun
Kim: Society is now dealing with the internal contradictions inherent in the reform of the four major laws dealing with national security, freedom of speech, private education, and addressing the legacies of the past. Please comment on how best to deal with the anti-reform forces clamoring for the elimination of these laws.
Kang: I would say that the national security law is most important. This needs to be resolved in conjunction with peaceful reunification. Of particular concern is the provision concerning anti-state organizations. If we were to achieve national unification through war, we could see the raison d’Ãªtre for such a law. However, our nation has learned from the Korean War that we will never achieve unification by means of war. The same applies to German-style absorption of one by the other. The German path looks peaceful, but the absorbing side is forcing its sovereignty and its system on the absorbed side. In the end, this method is not all that different from unification by war. Therefore, we need to opt for the non-war, non-absorption method. But as long as the law defines the other side as an anti-state organization, we will never be able to achieve peaceful unification.
The second important issue is freedom of speech reform. The news media that are subjected to this reform are those anti-democratic media that had served as protector and spokesperson for the previous military government. These media insist that this reform would constitute suppression of freedom of speech, but in fact, it is none other than the reform directed against anti-democratic media. It is obvious that the media that are resisting are precisely those that previously supported and collaborated with the military dictators. We need to strictly distinguish the question of freedom of speech and that of reforming the anti-democratic media.
In my view, the reform of private education should be seen in this way: no matter who the founder may be, the moment anyone or any foundation establishes a school, it is no longer personal or private property, but is public property. Is it not the case that, having donated property for the social good, the founder is publicly respected? Nevertheless, we are encountering founders who regard their schools as private property and say that if their schools are not seen as such, they will ‘close them.’ I’d like to ask these people what is their purpose in running a school. In some private middle and high schools, up to 80 per cent of operating costs are paid by the government. If the founders in such situations believe that the school is their private property and they can do anything they want, I would say that this is anachronistic. Let me state again: the moment one establishes a school, that school becomes public property.
The problem of coming to terms with the past is serious. When a nation such as ours, that had achieved a certain cultural level, was forcefully occupied by another nation and then was liberated, those who aligned with the occupier must be punished and put aside. Both rightists and leftists participated in the national liberation movement. Rightists such as Kim Ku used to say ‘liberation is revolution.’ In other words, anyone who opposed national liberation had to be put aside.
But every administration in
History will go as far as it has to go
Kim: President Kang said that the conservatives would not be able to obstruct legal reform, given the overall historical current, and in the long run, they would disappear.
Kang: When we look at the historical current, we always find opposition. And, it is possible that reactionary forces may win once or twice. But their victory is only temporary and the historical current will prevail. That is why there exists this thing called history and that is how we learn and teach.
Kim: President Kang laughed aloud. It was the laughter of a master of history and I could not quite grasp what that laughter meant. I followed up with the question “Why then re-elect Bush?” because so many of us believe that Bush goes against the proper direction of world history.
It is anticipated that Bush’s re-election will gravely affect the Korean peninsula and the international order in the region. Some insist that because of this, the Roh government must exercise greater diplomatic independence. What is the prospect for a Korean peninsula that is closely intertwined with the
Kang: Again, I’d emphasize the need to see this matter historically. I do not think anyone can guarantee how long the
We should also shift our focus toward northeast
Kim: Those who are concerned about the solution to the national question have recently been perplexed by ‘the North Korean human rights question.’ The
Kang: I would say that we should prioritize the issues of survival and maintaining the current regime over the human rights issue. I think only after these problems are resolved can we discuss the human rights issue. Those concerned about human rights in
There are moves afoot to connect
When President Kim Il Sung passed on, two scenarios emerged with regard to the possibility of the collapse of the North Korean regime. One was that in the event of North Korean collapse,
Kim: Finally, President Kang discussed his expectations for the younger generation of Koreans. I did not hear his story as a politically correct talk by an ivory tower professor.
Kang: Some people criticize today’s young men and women as corrupt just because they dye their hair, but I don’t think that’s right. Today’s young people do not wage demonstration amidst tear gas like their predecessors. But that does not mean that today’s young people are not concerned about our nation’s future. Those youths armed with the Internet played an important role in the emergence of the Roh administration and they were the first to voice concern over the unjustifiable death of a female middle school student at the hands of US servicemen. Already, they are grappling with directions of how to look to the future in the twenty-first century.
Kim: President Kang once defined our twentieth century history as the ‘history of han [ressentiment].’ I wonder if he said that, because of his concern that we not leave this han to the generations that will follow. He clearly distinguishes the twentieth century and the twenty-first century, deeming the former as having been filled with resistance against national partition and anti-democratic forces and the latter as our path toward peaceful reunification and the development of democracy. When he says, adamantly, “there is no reason why the young people of the twenty-first century should be wearing old clothes,” he must have meant that “those young people who live today are the heroes and heroines of the era of peace and reunification.”
Kim Jae Jung’s interview with Kang Man Gil appeared in Mal, Number 222, December, 2004. He can be reached at [email protected]