Saturday, August 29, 2009
Kim Dae Jung - Tribute To A Leader
In August 2001 I got an invitation through the Indian Liberal Group and the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung for a conference of young democratic leaders of asia. I was still a journalist with NDTV then and did not know what to expect but cutting my hectic life as a journalist I accepted the invite.
At Seoul’s Incheon airport I was greeted by a grumpy immigration official who roughly asked me about my purpose of visit and where I would be staying. I had really no clue except that I was to attend a conference. So I handed him the invite for him to see. As the man read the invite I saw his expressions change and he suddenly stood up from his chair and bowed thrice. I still did not have a clue why.
Once my immigrations were cleared I took one more look at my invite and the program mentioned nothing except the conference and a meeting with the `Leader’!
Our conference began and it was hectic I promise you with liberals demanding Gen. Parvez Musharrah of Pakistan be declared a dictator in the final resolution and the Pakistani liberals (close to the General) stoutly defending him and even saying that Musharraf was a democrat! But how could there be a resolution on democracy without condemning military dictatorships? So finally a consensus emerged that we condemn all military rules in Asia.
On the third day of the conference we were taken to see `The Leader’ who lived at the Blue House. Only then did I realize that `The Leader’ was none other than the President of South Korea.
No cameras were allowed and after a security check we were welcomed inside and President Kim Dae Jung stood waiting for us outside the hall with a host of TV crew and photographers alongside. As our names were called out one by one and each one of introduced in Korean (I could follow they said something about TV & Radio when my name was announced) each one of us shook hands with the President.
The Blue House is just regal and as we sat around our tables the director presented the proceedings of the conference and talked about in great detail the resolution we had passed. One had not imagined a head of state taking such keen interest in democracy.
And the President himself gave a one-hour speech in Korean but translated in English for us to follow. As I noticed a limp in his leg a Korean colleague pointed out that the President got that from the torture in prison as he led the uprising against military dictatorship in South Korea.
It was a privilege to hear Kim Dae Jung.
The next few days we got to see South Korea and all I can say is that it’s a very beautiful country.
We even visited the province that Kim Dae Jung comes from and its his province that was always the first to stand up to military rule but also the one who suffered the brutal military assaults resulting in the deaths of thousands of young men and women. Somehow the outside world has no idea the price Koreans have paid to fight for democracy and freedom.
I was asked which province I came from and when I explained about Bihar the Koreans said yes, yes, that’s exactly like the province Kim Dae Jung comes from – all protests start from there – a politically volatile state.
Another aspect I wasn’t aware of us that both India and South Korea got their independence on August 15 1947 and both were divided.
Kim Dae Jung’s legacy is his `Sunshine Policy’ when he became the first South Korean President to cross the border to North Korea and meet Kim Jong II, enabling thousands of other Korean families to meet their loved ones. There were critics to his plans then and there will be critics now but as I watched Kim Dae Jung’s last interview given to CNN he said, “The only way the two Korea’s can come together is by dialogue and never by war. My policy has made South Korea safer…before we felt a bomb would fall any minute, any second.”
He is also charged with bribing Kim Jong II for his Sunshine Policy but Kim Dae Jung said he was helping his poor brothers and sisters in North Korea. Later his government was also called the `lame-duck’ government.
But Kim Dae Jung deservedly received the Nobel Prize for Peace.
As I left Korea I felt Kim Dae Jung helped me look at Asia and the world differently. It also made me realize that there were only a few democratic countries in Asia and so when I started this blog I write about Aung San and the monks protests…I write about the Dalai Lama and his desire to return home to Tibet.
On my return to India the next month on September 11 as airplanes crashed into New Yorks World Trade Centre I understood why Kim Dae Jung paid so much attention to democracy.
The President of South Korea even sent me a New Year Greeting to my Patna address.
And while his sons embroiled his name in corruption he readily apologized to the nation.
But I am not sure if Korean’s forgave him.
He was their hero.