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President Kim’s state funeral

S. Korea expresses gratitude and longing for departing president, and mourners keep his last wishes close to their heart

» Mourners visit the incense-burning place for late President Kim Dae-jung at Seoul Plaza, Aug 23.

He has gone far away, this man whose aching legs and swollen feet that made it difficult for him to walk even a few steps. He was accompanied on his way by mittens and chestnut-colored socks knitted by his wife for his hands and feet that had grown colder with every step. Where is he going without his cane, the one that helped him walk whenever democracy, human rights and peace between South Korea and North Korea lost their legs? Aug 23, a day of the year normally associated with the end of the summer heat, was particularly cheerless and carried a sorrowful energy.


The state funeral ceremony for former President Kim Dae-jung was held Sunday in front of the National Assembly building. The memorial address expressed a wish to hold onto him, “Are you really saying goodbye to us forever? The mountains and rivers of a divided South Korea and North Korea are choking with tears. Where do we turn now when something terrible happens in the country?”



As a form of response, countless citizens out in the streets called out his name once again. Some stretched out their hands towards his passing funeral portrait, crying and calling out, “President Kim Dae-jung, we love you” and “Don’t go.” Some mourners waved pieces of paper conveying issues that Kim Dae-jung had worried about and prayed for until his final breath, “democracy” and “South and North Korean reconciliation.”



After leaving the National Assembly after the memorial service, the motorcade stopped at his Donggyo-dong home, where the late president’s portrait was taken to his second floor study and to the room where he received painful dialysis treatments up until the end of his life and wished for an invention that could treat his kidneys. The portrait was also held tightly by his grandson to whom he often said, “Love for your neighbors is the core of life,” and carried to symbolically sniff the flowers that he and his wife had grown together in their front yard.




Meanwhile, tens of thousands of citizens gathered at Seoul Plaza in front of Seoul City Hall. “We are happy to have lived in this age with him,” they said before joining together to sing, “Our hope is for unification.” The late president’s wife, Lee Hee-ho, stood before them and said in a frail but clear voice, “Forgiveness and reconciliation were the President’s dying wishes.” Thousands launched yellow balloons to express their longing for the departed leader, while others released butterflies that flew off after the balloons.



Kim Dae-jung, who faced countless crises in his life as an opposition party politician fighting a dictatorship, a president advancing democracy, and as a leader who worked to preserve peace and human rights, was laid to rest in Seoul National Cemetery in Seoul’s Dongjak-dong. Mourners reminisced about the fullness of his 86-year long life, the resilient honeysuckle that bears his nickname and his wish for the people to serve as “consciences that act.” The fifteenth president walked off into history with a letter from his wife close to his chest that says, “I love and respect you.”



Please direct questions or comments to [englishhani@hani.co.kr]



Kim Dae-jung’s last diary issues public warning regarding Lee administration

Kim praises the beauty of life and commits himself to “resolving the three major crises of the present: the crisis of democracy, the economic crisis of the working class, and the crisis in inter-Korean relations”

» Copies of a compilation of excerpts taken from late President Kim Dae-jung’s 2008-2009 diary were made available at incense-burning sites, Aug 21.

A section of late President Kim Dae-jung's diary kept over the last year of his life until just before his June 4 hospitalization was shared with the public on Friday. It appears to represent a kind of final statement to the public, and was handwritten by the late president during a time when his health had deteriorated.


In the journal, Kim Dae-jung passionately expressed his rage against the unilateral behavior of the Lee Myung-bak administration, and shared his concern and dismay over the state of democracy in South Korea and the extent to which inter-Korean relations is in crisis. As though sensing that he did not have long to live, he also praised the beauty of life and expressed warm affection for his wife Lee Hee-ho.



On May 23, the day former President Roh Moo-hyun died, Kim wrote, “Prosecutors were too harsh in their investigation. They attacked him, his wife, his son, his older brother and his nephew-in-law as if they were cleaning house.” He also wrote that Roh’s suicide “was as good as forced upon him.”



In a May 29 entry written after attending Roh’s funeral ceremony, Kim wrote, “There has probably never been a case of nationwide mourning like this before. The people’s disappointment, rage and sadness about reality seems to overlap with President Roh’s.” He also strongly cautioned that the Lee government “will be unable to escape unscathed if it keeps up with this utter high-handedness.”


In an entry on Jan 20, when the Yongsan tragedy occurred, Kim criticized the police brutality in evidence there. “Because of the violent suppression of the police, five people are dead and an additional ten have been hospitalized with injuries. It is truly barbaric behavior,” he wrote. He also considered the unfortunate plight of those protesting evictions and wrote, “The situation of these poor citizens, who are being chased out of their homes in the cold winter, brings tears to my eyes.”



In a Jan 16 entry, Kim wrote, “All dictators in history think that they alone will not follow the same path as those previous if they prepare well enough, but in the end, they walk the same path or are subject to history’s harsh judgment.”



Throughout the diary, Kim reflected on his turbulent 85-year life and expressed his intentions of dedicating what was left of his life to addressing democracy in crisis and to normalizing inter-Korean relations. In entries on Jan 14 and Jan 15, he wrote, “The question in life is not how long you lived. It is whether you lived for people who are suffering and are faced with hardship.” He also wrote, “I have lived my life believing in history and the people even amid innumerable persecutions. In the future, I will continue to walk this same path for as long as I am alive.”



The former president also indicated a powerful determination to live even amid an agonizing illness. On April 27, a day when he received four hours of dialysis treatment, he wrote, “What is there to hope for in this world?” He went on to write, “I will maintain my health until the end and to lend the counsel necessary for resolving the three major crises of the present: the crisis of democracy, the economic crisis of the working class, and the crisis in inter-Korean relations.”


He also expressed his warm feelings toward his wife, Lee Hee-ho, with whom he had spent his entire life. On Jan. 11, he wrote, “I love and respect my wife, and without her, I might not be here now and even now, I think living without her would be difficult.” On Feb. 7, he wrote, “It makes me happy to spend time with my wife all day long.”


The journal entries released Friday were excerpts from the 2009 section of Kim’s last journal, which begins in 2008. Regarding the matter of undisclosed journal entries, Choi Kyung-hwan, the former president’s chief secretary hinted that earlier entries contained even more intense criticism of the Lee administration. “The question of whether or not to disclose some rather strident excerpts during his state funeral is left to Mrs. Lee Hee-ho’s discretion,” Choi said. The journal entries released Friday were printed in a small book entitled Insaengeun Areumdapgo Yeoksaneun Baljeonhanda (Life Is Beautiful and History Advances), and 30,000 copies were distributed at incense-burning memorials nationwide.


Please direct questions or comments to [englishhani@hani.co.kr]



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