September 12, 2023
Hong Seok-hyun, Chairman of the Korea Peace Foundation
I would like to thank Wolfram Hoppenstedt, Director of the Federal Chancellor Willy Brandt Foundation, Verne Harris, President of the Nelson Mandela Foundation who traveled from so far away and Professor Park Myeong-lim of Yonsei University who organized this event.
Today, the world faces complex crises, including the retreat of democracy, worsening conflict between the United States and China, and the prolonged war between Russia and Ukraine. North Korea's nuclear weapons are becoming more sophisticated daily in the Korean Peninsula, and relations between South and North Korea and between North Korea and the United States have been severed. There seems no solution to non-nuclear peace. Inside Korea, the conflicts between the ruling and opposition parties and between conservatives and progressives have risen to the worst. Conversations have disappeared and it is difficult to expect any political agreement. Today's urgent tasks are integration at home and peace at the global level. Only countries that have achieved integration can contribute to world peace and coexist and prosper.
This may be the reason why we are gathered here today to think about the lives and current values of the three giants of the 20th century: President Kim Dae-jung of Korea, Chancellor Willy Brandt of Germany, and President Nelson Mandela of South Africa. The three established the first Coalition Government, the Grand Coalition, and the government of integrating blacks and whites. They raised the level of democracy and played pioneering roles in the reconciliation of South and North Korea, the unification of Germany, and the conflict resolution in South Africa. They contributed to the peace of humanity beyond the borders of Asia, Europe, and Africa. They were great men who overcame discrimination, oppression, and suffering that were difficult for a human being to endure for a very long time. After becoming the supreme leaders, they opened the ways to domestic integration and world peace through forgiveness, reconciliation, and coexistence instead of revenge and punishment.
Kim Dae-jung and Brandt had a special relationship, respecting and cherishing each other throughout their lives. Brandt took the lead in saving Kim Dae-jung's life when he was sentenced to death by Chun Doo-hwan's Hanahoe in 1980. In 1987, he submitted a letter of recommendation for Kim Dae-jung for the Nobel Peace Prize to the Academy with the signatures of 73 Social Democratic Party members. Kim Dae-jung recalled, “I only have owed him for my whole life. Looking back on the past, it is just amazing. How could we interact with each other so naturally even though we lived apart from each other in different countries?”
Brandt, who fought against the Nazis, threw away his birth name, “Frahm,” to avoid being traced while in exile in Norway and lived as Brandt after that. He was a protagonist of a turbulent adversity. However, in 1966, he participated in Germany's first Grand Coalition government with Kiesinger, a former executive of the Ministry of Propaganda of the Nazis, as the chancellor and served as the vice chancellor and the foreign minister. He broke the “Hallstein Doctrine,” established to isolate East Germany, and prescribed that West Germany would not establish or maintain diplomatic relations with any state that had established diplomatic relations with East Germany. Chancellor Kiesinger was the one who approved this. It was the starting point of the Ostpolitik, a grand plan to unite Europe into one community to improve national relations with Eastern European countries, expand options within it, and ultimately lead to unification.
I believe that Brandt's transformative idea of coexistence being the only opportunity for survival changed European and world history. Brandt's Ostpolitik was the role model for Kim Dae-jung's Sunshine Policy. When Kim Dae-jung ran for the presidency in 1971, he said he supported and empathized with Brandt's Ostpolitik. Like Brandt, who said there was no interest for people separated from peace, Kim opposed unification by force. Kim Dae-jung's theory of security of the big four countries and the theory of unification with reconciliation and peace of North and South Korea pursue to find a solution to the inter-Korean problem at the macro level of peace in Northeast Asia. This is in the same context as the logic of Brandt, a globalist, who said that the unification of Germany can only be considered within the European peace order.
Kim Dae-jung's proposal to form an East Asian community is similar to Brandt's proposal to build a European community, a European federation. Like Brandt joined hands with Kiesinger, a former Nazi, Kim Dae-jung also formed a coalition government with Kim Jong-pil, the No. 2 of the Park Chung-hee regime who had once oppressed him. The economic officials were in the circle of Kim Jong-pil and played an important role in helping the Kim Dae-jung government overcome the foreign exchange crisis. I believe that it is the great power of integration. Immediately after being elected president, Kim Dae-jung proposed an amnesty for former President Chun Doo-hwan, who had tried to execute him. He fulfilled his final statement, “Even if I die, there should never be political retaliation like this again,” himself. He actively worked as an advisor in building the memorial hall for former President Park Chung-hee and funded KRW 20 billion. The victim forgave the perpetrator. It was a touching reconciliation between a living and a dead.
After the whites had taken South Africa, more than 3 million people died, went missing, or were imprisoned during the 340 years of harsh apartheid. It was hell for the blacks. Mandela, who had suffered the horror, was a hardliner who engaged in violent armed struggle. However, spending 27 years in prison, he found enlightenment that there is no future without forgiveness. When he was released and became president, many South Africans wanted the way of the Nuremberg trials in the victorious countries of World War II that punished all Nazi criminals. However, Mandela chose the opposite and sent the message of forgiveness without forgetting. Instead of revenge and punishment, he founded Truth and Reconciliation Commission. There was a backlash saying, “Where on earth is justice?” Nevertheless, Mandela unwaveringly pushed forward with a policy of reconciliation between the blacks and whites. He invited the three white prison officers, who had watched him as VIPs at the presidential inauguration ceremony. And he invited the prosecutor, who had insulted him in court and sent him to prison, for lunch. Also, he appointed the cold-blooded prison governor as the ambassador to Austria.
Kim Dae-jung, who spent six years in prison, was called Korean Nelson Mandela. When Kim ran for president for the fourth time in 1997, Mandela sent his third daughter and her husband to encourage Kim and presented him with the watch he had been wearing throughout his imprisonment. Kim presented Mandela with the old bag he had carried during the Restoration Regime and exile. Kim Dae-jung translated Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, into Korean in 2005 and wrote in the book: Mandela freed the whites from the prison of conscience. Only the braves can forgive.
Distinguished guests, we can achieve the integration to reach peace only by exercising the virtue of listening and reconciliation, embracing even those with different thoughts. This is why I founded the Korea Peace Foundation and a platform called Reset Korea and made small efforts with intellectuals from various circles. The lives of Kim Dae-jung, Brandt, and Mandela presented the blessings of integration and peace through forgiveness and reconciliation beyond the imagination of ordinary people. We are witnessing how the world today is divided by narrow-minded partisanship and foolish black-and-white thinking. The lives of the three people, full of altruistic actions, will be echoes of reflection and awakening for all of us living in a precarious time. Thank you for listening.
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