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LKP slams plan to honor North’s statesman

Mar 28,2019
The conservative opposition Liberty Korea Party condemned the Moon Jae-in administration Wednesday for considering the designation of a late North Korean statesman as a patriot for his role in the independence movement against Japanese colonial rule.

“Minister of Patriots and Veterans Affairs Pi Woo-jin said there is a possibility of conferring a decoration on Kim Won-bong, a North Korean communist,” said Rep. Na Kyung-won, the floor leader of the largest opposition party. “It means that the government will praise a culprit behind the Korean War as a national hero.”

“Pi finally revealed this administration’s true intention,” Na continued. “It wants to eradicate the country’s identity as a liberal democracy and plant leftist ideology and dictatorship.”

On Tuesday, Pi attended a meeting of the National Assembly’s National Police Committee and addressed the issue. Rep. Choung Tae-ok of the Liberty Korea Party asked whether the government will bestow posthumous merit on Kim, an independent activist who later became a statesman in North Korea.

“We are collecting opinions,” Pi said. “There is a possibility.”

She then said that current standards do not allow Kim to be designated as a patriot. Pi said, however, that times have changed and it is not right to exclude independence activists just because they contributed to the North Korean regime. “Of course, we had the Korean War, but we hope for your understanding,” Pi said.

Choung, then, challenged Pi’s explanation.

“It is true that Kim contributed greatly to Korea’s independence,” he said. “But Kim Il Sung will be awarded an order and pension if we start naming those who directly contributed to the foundation of the North’s regime as recipients for their meritorious service for independence. Does that mean that we have to give a pension to North Korean State Affairs Commission Chairman Kim Jong-un, the surviving grandson [of Kim Il Sung]?”

As the controversy grows, the ministry said Wednesday that it will host an academic conference next week to discuss Kim Won-bong’s merits and demerits. Experts will attend the session on Monday to discuss his past.

Kim, an anarchist, served as deputy commander of the Korean Liberation Army of the provisional government in China. After Korea’s independence, he returned to Korea, but crossed the border into the North in 1947. He was a founding member of the North Korean regime and was later appointed as the head of the State Inspection Commission, a position equivalent to the prosecutor general of South Korea.

He also served as the labor minister and a member of the Supreme People’s Assembly. But after the Korean War, he was purged by Kim Il Sung in 1958.

Speculation was high since Moon’s election that the government will recognize his merits for independence. After watching the 2015 movie “Assassination,” which portrayed independence activists including Kim Won-bong, Moon, then head of the liberal Democratic Party, wrote on Facebook that the time has come for the South to ease its standards to honor more independence activists, as the two Koreas’ ideological race has come to an end.

According to Rep. Ji Sang-wuk of the Bareunmirae Party, an advisory body of the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs recommended in January that the ministry should re-evaluate independence activists such as Kim who are not properly praised in both Koreas. The ministry reportedly conducted legal reviews on the possibility of awarding decorations to Kim.

Concerns were raised about the move.

“The foundation of the Republic of Korea was the outcome of a struggle against communism,” said Chung Kyung-hee, a history professor at Youngsan University. “At the time, communists made clear their ideology against the Republic of Korea. The war has not ended and we are not united, and it is premature to name a pro-North official as a patriot.”

BY YOO SEONG-WOON [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]