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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Oct. 28)

All News 07:25 October 28, 2021

Leaving behind mixed legacy
Roh's achievements overshadowed by misdeeds

The late President Roh Tae-woo, who passed away Tuesday, left behind a mixed legacy. He has been under criticism for his deep involvement in the 1979 military coup and the bloody crackdown on the pro-democracy uprising in Gwangju in May 1980. On the other hand he has been credited for leading a transition to democracy in Korea, ending the decades-long military dictatorships.

Despite praise for his achievements, his life was notably tainted with his role in helping his predecessor Chun Doo-hwan seize power through the coup and brutally suppressing the pro-democracy movement in the southwestern city of Gwangju. Roh along with Chun was convicted of treason and corruption in 1997. He also took flak for amassing a massive slush fund.

Most of all, he failed to make a sincere apology to the victims and bereaved family members of those killed in the uprising while he was alive. He only left a note with a posthumous apology, unveiled by his family. Though his son Jae-heon visited Gwangju to apologize on his father's behalf, it was not sufficient to console the victims and their families. In a memoir published in 2011, he even triggered anger among Gwangju citizens by asserting that the pro-democracy protesters were misled by "false rumors" to cause such tragic incident.

On the positive side, he pushed "Nordpolitik," establishing diplomatic relations with the socialist bloc countries, including the Soviet Union in 1990 and China in 1992, as he rode on the wave of global detente at the end of the Cold War. Roh also opened a new era in relations with North Korea with the signing of the South-North Basic Agreement in 1991. In addition, he played a leading role in realizing the simultaneous admission of the two Koreas to the United Nations that year.

He also made the "June 29 Declaration" which led to a constitutional revision to introduce a direct presidential election. With the slogan of ushering in the "Era of Ordinary Citizens" he shifted to a "soft" leadership from his predecessor's authoritarian rule. Roh also made contributions to the development of the national economy by initiating the projects of building a high-speed railway linking Seoul and Busan, and Incheon International Airport.

Despite such efforts toward economic rejuvenation, corrupt ties between politicians and businesspeople were deepened under his administration as seen in many bribery cases. Roh tried to differentiate himself from his predecessor by, for instance, conducting hearings on the Chun administration and the Gwangju uprising, to little avail. This was because he could not be free from his past misdeeds as one of the key players in the military coup.

President Moon Jae-in extended his condolences to the bereaved family members of Roh, Wednesday. "Despite many historical wrongdoings, he made significant contributions to the national development," Cheong Wa Dae spokeswoman Park Kyung-mee quoted Moon as saying. In the same context, the government decided to hold a state funeral for Roh during a Cabinet meeting presided over by Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum. Yet, Roh will not be buried in the National Cemetery but in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, to respect his family's wishes.

Unable to comfortably live his later life due to chronic disease, he finally passed away. In his will, he begged for "generous forgiveness for my past wrongdoings." We wish him eternal peace and rest.

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