Democracy Is Not Free
By Lee Hyo-won
For the late former President Kim Dae-jung (1924-2009), democracy could not be achieved without sacrifice and conviction.
He survived five death threats, six years in prison, prolonged house arrest and decade-long exile for his pro-democracy struggle. The Nobel Peace laureate never compromised for the cause of democracy throughout his political career.
Kim had a firm conviction that his dedication to the pro-democracy struggle and inter-Korean reconciliation was worth risking his life for.
With his recent passing, he leaves behind a legacy as South Korea's champion of equality and human rights.
Throughout Korea's tumultuous modern history, especially during the military regimes of Park Chung-hee and Chun Doo-hwan in the 1970s and '80s, respectively, Kim's campaign against dictatorship resulted in a death sentence, abduction and imprisonment. But he never stopped fighting for the cause and while in exile in the United States he established the Korean Institute for Human Rights in Washington D.C.
In recognition of his achievement, he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000. In an acceptance speech, Kim said, "I humbly pledge before you that, as the great heroes of history have taught us, as Alfred Nobel would expect of us, I shall give the rest of my life to human rights and peace in my country and the world, and to the reconciliation and cooperation of my people.''
Two months prior to his death, in his June 15 Joint Declaration speech for the anniversary of the first inter-Korean summit in 2000, he expressed concern for the future of democracy in Korea.
"Korean democracy is backtracking," he said in a stern warning to President Lee Myung-bak. "When dictators tried to rule the nation, the Korean people have stood against them."
It is difficult to quantify the value of democracy but the price Kim paid to defend it will be long remembered.