Foundation for the Future
Foundation for the Future
  • By Yoo Dong-yeon
  • 승인 2008.10.22 10:58
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- Today's Controversy over the Foundation of Korea

   Korea entered upon the 60th anniversary of her foundation on August 8th, 2008. A great many functions were held to commemorate this special day throughout the year. The Task Force for the 60th Anniversary of the Republic of Korea planned 86 events including scientific meetings, cultural festivals, and events for patriots and veterans. Websites of administrative branches were filled with advertisements and information about the celebrations. A large-sized banner with the words "Celebration of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Korea?was hung on the wall of the Central Government Complex, and small banners filled the streets. As indicated in an official financial document, the total budget for the project was 27,900 million won; a little less 10 percent of the budget (2,300 million won) was disbursed for advertising.
   This project is not the same as those in the past in terms of its substance. The 15th of August had been regarded as the day of the national liberation, not the foundation. Accordingly, the government had planned celebrations for the historical fact that Korea was relieved from the rule of Japanese imperialism. This  year, however, the celebrations all are in the name of the 60th anniversary for the national foundation. This sudden change of name has brought about a huge controversy. It might be a matter of national magnitude. For all that, the government has not followed a process of listening to various opinions on the name-change, before determining whether to carry out the project. The public are dissatisfied with the arbitrary behavior of the government, which does not pay careful attention to the trend of public opinion.


   The beginning of controversy
   Today is not the first time that the term ?oundation?has appeared in politics. In 1998, President Kim Dae-jung announced, in an address for celebration of the liberation anniversary, that in 50 years since the foundation, Korea had gone through lots of ups and downs. However, it did not make it an issue at that time. This is because there had been relatively few celebrations of the national foundation. The authorities in the past were not passionate about honoring that memory. Then, why has it become so controversial nowadays to memorialize the foundation? The answer is due to the difference in what it means to Korea. At first, it just referred to objective historical fact, but now it is used for ideological arguments.
   Before this year, there was another contention regarding the national foundation in the legislature. Thirteen assemblymen of the Grand National Party introduced a bill into the National Assembly in 2003 proposing that the Liberation Day should be renamed Foundation Day to encourage integration of the nation and development of the country. That bill was not approved; however, the Grand National Party has repeatedly presented bills which had the same content, but different titles. On July 3rd, 2007, thirteen assemblymen brought in a bill about renaming the Liberation Day again. Jeong Kab-yoon, one of those assemblymen, explained why the bill should be approved. ?his measure will let people rethink the national ideal envisioned in the foundation which was the root of advanced industrialization and democratization: Bright and future-headed Korea will come into reality.?Despite its great significance, the bill did not make it through due to constant arguments.
   Meanwhile, the administration set up the project all over the country as the 60th anniversary of the nation's founding, and is exerting all possible efforts to make it succeed, as mentioned in the introduction. It seemed that both measures were planned for achieving certain goals. Thus, many people begin to think that the two have some connections.
   The Task Force for the 60th Anniversary of the Republic of Korea makes it clear that the current project of the foundation is planned without any relation to the ongoing legislative proceedings. In addition, Republican Jeong announced that he would withdraw the bill on August 12th. He stated in the press release that he felt sorry for those who got hurt by the Foundation Day controversy, whether it was right or wrong, and that the bill should not cause national disruption or conflict which might prevent President Lee from realizing his vision; after all, it was all for erasing the doubt. Though, many people are still in doubt.

   The purpose of foundation work
   As an answer for the question, "Why does the government plan celebrations for the national foundation, especially in 2008?" in an interview with The Sogang Herald, Woo Ki-jong, Chief Officer of the Task Force for the 60th Anniversary of the Republic of Korea suggested a traditional Korean conception  on time. Korean people believe 60 years form one big cycle. The cycle is a combination of the 10 celestial stems and the 12 zodiacal signs, and each year has its own name. Then, this 60-year cycle repeats. "Following this traditional concept, we intend to look back on the past six decades and to herald the next six decades because this year is the 60th anniversary for the national foundation," stated Chief Officer Woo. Korea made huge efforts in all aspects for the last 60-year period. The result was beyond everyone's expectation: Korea has developed rapidly, creating a myth of success, and is now acknowledged as the only advanced nation among other 140 countries founded after World War II. "Before entering the stage where Korea would rank among advanced nations, the whole nation needs to ponder what we have achieved, what the current situation is, and what the future will be about: This is why we have this celebration." This year might be a chance to gain a new vitality based on the pride of yesterday's achievements and confidence in tomorrow.
   It is plausible that foundation has more positive meaning than liberation. The liberation of Korea was not unassisted-it involved a national passivity. In terms of the viewpoint that subjective and independent historical thinking needs to be encouraged, a name-change is quite necessary. Rep. Hyun Gyoung- byoung who co-proposed the bill of renaming the national holiday agreed with this idea in an interview with The Hankyoreh. "Honoring the 15th of August as the anniversary for the foundation is just for celebrating a history full of victory and glory, not of defeat and frustration." The foundation of the Republic of Korea forms a crucial part in the history of the Korean Peninsula. It initiated, for the first time, the adoption of democracy and the market economy, which ensure human rights such as liberty, equality, and property rights, and hence, there is an abundant need to make something of this historical fact. Chief Officer Woo also clarified their intention by saying, "We have never thought about neglecting or abolishing Liberation Day; instead, celebrating the 60th anniversary of the foundation helps highlight the liberation. They are indisputably related to each other." 

   Unacceptable in history
   Nevertheless, the project of the nation's founding has a fatal flaw in that it might not acknowledge the challenging history of liberation movements. After 1910, when annexed to Japan, Korea suffered under Japan's colonial rule for 35 years. People lost their language, culture, property, and especially their country. It was really a pressing issue to take back national pride through founding the country. Thus, on August 15th, 1919, activists who led the national independence movements, including Kim Gu, built the foundation of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea in Shanghai, China: The people could say loudly that they were the citizens of Korea, not colonized men. Though it was a provisional one, its foundation meant a lot for building the central pillar of the nation-democracy, and deciding on the nation's name as the Republic of Korea. The government made sacrifices to let the world know about the cruel side of Japan and aid Korea's independence. Thanks to them, the people could keep their own national spirit. When Japan proclaimed unconditional surrender in World War II, Korea was eventually liberated from Japan on August 15th, 1945, in accordance with the provisions of the Cairo and Potsdam Declarations. Then, amid political upheaval, the Republic of Korea was officially founded on August 15th, 1948. 
   "Establishing the republican democratic government known as the Republic of Korea began with foundation of the Provisional Government in 1919. It is obviously wrong to consider 1948 as the year of the foundation. Moreover, the Constitutional Assembly stated plainly in 1948 that the Republic of Korea succeeded the Provisional Government," said Prof. Han See-jun (Dept. of History, Dankook University), who filled the post of the 12th Chief of the Institute of Korean Independence Movement Studies. He indicated that the leading part of the project is the New Right, which consists of those who think Japan's rule led Korea's modernization, and they are not willing to respect past liberation movements. Their historical view is mainly based on development: foundation; industrialization; democratization; advancement. They are disposed to neglect previous history and write a new history, following this sequence. "They believe that those who founded the government in 1948 laid the groundwork for today with modernization and industrialization. Rhee Syngman, the first President of Republic of Korea, will be idolized as the founder of the country in their theory," added Professor Han.

   Unacceptable in constitution
   The project also encounters opposition from the fundamental perspective of the Constitution. The preamble of the Constitution prescribes that the Republic of Korea follow the system and tradition of the law of the Provisional Government. The 1987 revision of the Constitution elucidates this fact as well. Professor Han said there is no legitimacy problem in the Provisional Government. "The Provisional Government set up a provisional assembly at first, decided on the name of the country, and finally founded the government. It followed the legitimate process of foundation. Since it was barely possible in Shanghai to meet the three needs for foundation-sovereignty, the nation, and the country, the government had to be provisional. It was originally designed to be the official government after liberation from Japan."

   With all these constitutional facts, nonetheless, the government keeps pushing on with the project at their own discretion. On August 7th, 2008, 55 social organizations including the Memorial Association of the Korea Provisionary Government submitted constitutional complaints and applied for interlocutory injunctions against the Task Force for the 60th Anniversary of the Republic of Korea and their programs to the Constitutional Court. It is still in legal formalities.

   Unacceptable for other reasons
   Everyone wishes a permanent peace be established in the Korean Peninsula, but the current project might hinder the two Koreas in achieving the long-held wish, unification, as well. There is no doubt that South and North Korea are in one ethnic group even if each government was founded separately in the South and North. Someday, the two governments will do unification work together. "If we lay down a certain rule that 1948 is the year of the foundation, it means the Republic of Korea made a start distinct from the Democratic People? Republic of Korea," said Kim Ja-dong, President of the Memorial Association of the Korea Provisionary Government. The two countries were founded separately in 1948-August 15th in the South and September 9th in the North. "Thus, no one has a duty or justification to unify South and North Korea: There is no room for the term 'unification' itself." National reconciliation will be hard to realize if the conception of the foundation has changed.
   Furthermore, it may stand in the way of eliminating the legacy of Japan's colonial rule, and especially pro-Japanese figures. The government could have punished them up until this time for conspiring to betray the country and the people. However, if the history of Korea is limited to six decades since 1948, they can be free from any criticism or indictment because the country they betrayed is gone. President Kim made a case that the history of resistance before 1948 will be neglected, and no one can bring up the matter of dealing severely with pro-Japanese figures.

   Careful concern for word change
   Some criticize that the ongoing contention about the foundation is no more than an ideological argument; they suggest that the two sides need to engage in other important social issues. However, if one considers the controversy's enormous effects, such criticism is empty. Professor Han remarked, "The whole nation rose up in 1982 to stop Japan's actions for distorting the history. This reaction resulted from a small word change, 'advance' instead of 'invasion.' And the issue today is exactly the same as yesterday. It is all about whether to celebrate the national liberation or the foundation. It sounds like nothing important, but it will invite a totally different result. We should be concerned." Today's project of the 60th anniversary seems not to come from the concurrence of the people, but from the sole decision of the government. Hence, rather than using the term "foundation of the country" before an agreement, they need to revise it as "establishment of the government" so as not to deny the previous history.

By Yoo Dong-yeon (Editor of The S.H.)

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