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On the problem of Roh Moo-hyun’s political legacy: progressive democracy vs conservatism

Posted By admin On May 30, 2013 @ 2:14 pm In Abstracts for 2013, Social Sciences | Comments Disabled

Kim Natalia, research fellow

Higher School of Economics


This paper focuses on the political legacy of Roh Moo-hyun, the ninth President of the Republic of Korea (2003-2008). Throughout his presidency Roh Moo-hyun encountered a strong opposition from the conservative political groups and media. In the modern history of South Korea he was the only president who was publicly named a fool-president and the only president who committed suicide after the term of his presidency. Being accused in the improper domestic and international policy Roh Moo-hyun endured many troubles during his term. His unexpected death became a watershed in the modern South Korean politics. His supporters charged Lee Myung-bak’s administration with a death of Roh. At the same time they made efforts to reveal true history of the Roh’s presidency and his contribution to the modern South Korean history. Roh became a myth and a symbol of the progressive democracy in South Korea.

This study examines the political legacy of Roh Moo-hyun from the perspectives both what he had done as the President and what he and his supporters planned to do in future. The study aims to reveal what components of the socio-political program of Roh Moo-hyun’s can be treated as truly progressive and in what point this program encountered conservatism. The Roh Moo-hyun’s notes, letters and interviews were used to collect data about his attitudes toward, expectations for, assumptions about South Korean economics, politics and inter-Korean relations. All this materials were collected and published after Roh’s death in several books as “Success and Defeat” (성공과 좌절, 2009), “About our progressive future” (진보의 미래, 다음 세대를 위한 민주주의 교과서, 2009), “The President in my heart” (내 마음속 대통령, 2009).

Analysis of Roh’s memoirs, notes and interviews reveals that he was deeply worried about South Korea’s future. It is evident that he took his own policy as practically the failed. Here is a reason why after his term he continued to communicate with journalists, scientists and people on the actual problems of the South Korean society.  As a man he suffered a lot from attention of media to his personal life as well as from control of the state security service. In his diary he wrote that he was watched for 24 hours a day and he would like to keep his family privacy out of camera’s control.  It is interesting that this note was done a month before his suicide.

In his diary Roh pointed out that his power as the president was much less than anyone could imagine. He wrote that the development of society can’t be achieved by one or two presidents. Progressive development of society can be achieved only by the joint efforts of the president and the people. Roh tried to persuade Koreans that there was a necessity of radical changes in the South Korean society. Until the people conceive a necessity of changes the progressive democracy won’t have future in South Korea. Thus he describes the present ideological situation in South as a struggle between progressive democracy and conservatism.

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