By Seo Dong-shin
Late North Korean leader Kim Il-sung, right, talks with former U.S. President Jimmy- Carter on an excursion boat in this file photo taken in June 1994. Yonhap
It has been exactly 11 years since Kim Il-sung, the founding leader of North Korea, passed away on July 8, 1994. Called the ``Great Leader,’’ the late Kim is still honored by his son, ``Dear Leader’’ Kim Jong-il. But in the South, his clout seems to linger as well.
When the news of the sudden death of the North’s founding leader plastered newsstands in Seoul in July 1994, then-South Korean president Kim Young-sam ordered the entire army to be put on the highest alert in case of an emergency.
That stiff reaction had shattered the prospects of the inter-Korean summit that seemed to be just around the corner thanks to the mediation of Jimmy Carter, former U.S. president, amid high tensions of the first nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula.
The pattern repeated when Seoul refused to allow a civilian delegation to visit the North’s capital to mourn the 10th anniversary of Kim’s death last year. It became one of the reasons Pyongyang later cited for suspending normal inter-Korean dialogues.
Given such a history, the day passed rather quietly this year, possibly reflecting the somewhat relaxed tension between the two Koreas. Official talks between the authorities resumed, and hopes run high for another round of the six-party nuclear talks.
But the tranquility on the surface does not necessarily mean that there is no longer any controversy in the South on the legacy of Kim Il-sung, who ruled the Stalinist North during the four-decade Cold War period following the 1950-1953 Korean War.
This week, a staunch conservative from the main opposition Grand National Party (GNP) launched an attack against Han Hong-gu, a progressive scholar working for a committee to examine past wrongdoings of the nation’s counterespionage agency.
During a confirmation hearing at the National Assembly on the new chief of the National Intelligence Service (NIS), Rep. Chung Hyung-keun demanded the dismissal of Han, a history professor at Sungkonghoe University working for the NIS Development Committee for Clarifying the Past (NISDC).
In his argument, the prosecutor-turned-lawmaker cited Han’s article last year that described Kim Il-sung as a ``20th century nationalist’’ and questioned whether 10 years of time is still not enough to evaluate the ``leader of our brethren.’’
Chung, who has earned his fame as a public prosecutor mainly focusing on the security-related crimes such as spy cases, said it is not appropriate for Han to take part in the committee, questioning his ideological bent.
In fact, on the southern side of the inter-Korean border, this kind of trouble is always ready to be rekindled, with the possibility of leading to an ideological quarrel.
In April, Kang Man-gil, head of the government’s taskforce for celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the nation’s liberation from the 1910-45 Japanese colonialism, also faced criticism from the conservative media.
The reformist scholar said during a meeting with reporters, ``Kim Il-sung’s guerilla activities against the Japanese imperialists were certainly an independence movement.’’ Kang later said that, although what he said was true to his conscience as a scholar, he will keep quiet on such sensitive issues now that he is a government official.
Much doubt seems to be among those in the academic circles as well.
``There are two kinds of evaluations of Kim Il-sung. Those who think greatly of his activities as an independence fighter and those who do not,’’ said Kang Young-chul, Director of History Compilation Department at the National History Compilation Committee.
``I think after the South’s democratization process during the ‘80s, scholars now might be tilting toward the left in reaction to the period when the right-wing arguments dominated the academic circle,’’ he said.
``But we need to get a balanced viewpoint here. Although it’s true that Kim Il-sung was an independence fighter, we have to judge him for what he did during his lifetime and for his good and bad influence on our people,’’ Kang said.
``As the sun of the nation, the leader lives on eternally,’’ Kim Jong-il was quoted as saying about his father yesterday by Radio Pyongyang, monitored by Yonhap News Agency in Seoul. Though not like the sun to North Korea, he may surely live on eternally in the South, but in a different way.