Ambassadors to Korea offer flowers at the memorial altar for the late former President Kim Dae-jung at the National Assembly compound, Seoul, Friday. More than 30 ambassadors have paid tribute, while about 10 countries plan to send delegations for the funeral to be held Sunday. About a dozen of foreign leaders, including Pope Benedict XVI, Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso, British Prime Minister Gorgon Brown and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, also sent telegrams of condolence to President Lee Myung-bak. / Joint Press Corps
By Park Si-soo
Since former President Kim Dae-jung passed away Tuesday, readers of The Korea Times both at home and abroad sent emails to express their deep condolences over the death of the 85-year-old Nobel Peace Laureaute.
They commonly expressed their sadness at the death of the country's iconic politician, describing him as the "Nelson Mandela of Korea" who will be remembered as a fervent champion of democracy, human rights and peace.
They spoke highly of his life-long dedication to furthering democracy, economic justice and inter-Korean relations. Some of them shared their experiences of meeting with the late Kim in private.
John Stickler, a former Seoul-based correspondent for the CBS radio station between 1967 and 1976, said Kim will be remembered around the world as the Nelson Mandela of Korea, the man who survived a variety of life-threatening persecutions under the military junta headed by Park Chung-hee and Chun Doo-hwan to be elected President of Korea.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, Jesus said, for they will be called sons of God. The shining star of Korea's 20th century, Kim, has gone out. Let him be remembered as a peacemaker,'' Stickler said.
He spoke of his experience of meeting with the late Kim in the 1970s, when Kim was under the government's round-the-clock monitoring.
"Sometime in late '75 or early '76, after he had been released from prison the first time and then retried for treason, Kim invited my wife and me for a dinner. I was puzzled to notice that both the radio and television sets were blaring as we sat to dine. They explained that the noise was an effort to block the listening devices Park's spies had trained on the modest home,'' he said.
Robin Rhee, who also met with Kim in 1987 when he was exile in the United States, described Kim and his turbulent life as "What an extraordinary man and extraordinary journey." Rhee worked for the Kim Dae-jung Peace Foundation from 1994 to 2001. Rhee said, "People seemed to either love him or hate him but I predict that history will record him as a hero."
Thomas Doherty, who belongs to American studies department of Brandeis University in Massachusetts, said Kim was a leader of rare courage and vision. He quite literally put his life on the line for a more democratic and progressive Korea.
"In his desire for reunification and reconciliation with the North, Kim was willing to expend a good deal of political and economic capital," Doherty said.
George Hogan, who has lived in Seoul for three years teaching business English and current events, said "Kim embodied everything that a Korean politician should. He came from a poor part of the country, was charismatic, inspiring and revolutionary."
Hogan said there is no denying his contributions toward the democratization of the divided country. "I think the real effects of Kim can be witnessed in the uncompromising zeal of his supporters and the stagnation of serious and positive rapprochement with North Korea."
Bryan Kay, a freelancer journalist from the U.K., said the progress Kim made in inter-Korean relations can't be denied. "Sincerely, reading about his life story, it is hard not to have some respect for a guy who showed mettle not only to overcome the physical detention that held him back, but also the intellectual obstacles he overcame at such an advanced age,'' He said. ``This was well demonstrated by his learning of English. Korea truly has lost a son who brought home with him a lot of pride."
Jon Huer, a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, ruled his legacy mixed ㅡ good and bad ㅡ while recognizing Kim's capability of catching up with the globalizing trend and trying not to interrupt Korea's modernization in international finances and politics.
"I believe his legacy is mixed. Relentless defense of democracy, practices of boss-politician model, perhaps corrupt personal accumulation of wealth, Nobel Prize for peace, somewhat controversial partisan elder statesmanship, all these are his legacy but history will be kinder to him, I believe. He is the last of the 'big-name' Korean leader whose death will leave a huge gap in Korea's political arena," Huer said.
Sonia Reid Strawn, who lives in Seoul, took words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to describe Kim's life and contributions: "The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood."