The Justice of History

November 19, 2002
Singapore Democrats

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At an award ceremony in Oslo on 10 December 2000, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the 2000 Nobel Prize for Peace to South Korean president Kim Dae Jung for his work for democracy and human rights in East Asia in general, and for peace and reconciliation with North Korea in particular. The following are excerpts from his acceptance address:

Distinguished guests,

I believe that democracy is the absolute value that makes for human dignity, as well as the only road to sustained economic development and social justice. Without democracy, the market economy cannot blossom, and without market economics, economic competitiveness and growth cannot be achieved.

A national economy lacking in democratic foundation is a castle built on sand. Therefore, as president of the Republic of Korea, I have made the parallel development of democracy and market economics, supplemented with a system of productive welfare, the basic mission of my government. To achieve the mission, during the past two and a half years, we have taken steps to actively guarantee the democratic rights of our citizens. We have also been steadfast in implementing bold reforms in the financial, corporate, public and labour sectors. Furthermore, the efforts to promote productive welfare, focusing on human resources development for all citizens, including the low-income classes, have made much headway

Allow me to say a few words on a personal note. Five times I faced near death at the hands of dictators, six years I spent in prison, and forty years I lived under house arrest or in exile and under constant surveillance. I could not have endured the hardship without the support of my people and the encouragement of fellow democrats around the world. The strength also came from deep personal beliefs.

I have lived, and continued to live, in the belief that God is always with me. I know this from experience. In August of 1973, while exiled in Japan, I was kidnapped from my hotel room in Tokyo by intelligence agents of the then military government of South Korea. The news of the incident startled the world. The agents took me to their boat at anchor along the seashore. The tied me up, blinded me, and stuffed my mouth. Just when they were about to throw me overboard, Jesus Christ appeared before me with such clarity. I clung to him and begged him to save me. At that very moment, an airplane came down from the sky to rescue me from the moment of death.

Another faith is my belief in the justice of history. In 1980, I was sentenced to death by the military regime. For six months in prison, I awaited the execution day. Often, I shuddered with fear of death. But I would find calm in the fact of history that justice ultimately prevails. I was then, and am still, an avid reader of history. And I knew that in all ages, in all places, he who lives a righteous life dedicated to his people and humanity may not be victorious, may meet a gruesome end in his lifetime, but will be triumphant and honoured in history; he who wins by injustice may dominate the present day, but history will always judge him to be a shameful loser. There can be no exception.

President Kim Dae Jungs story, together with 5 others: Aung San Suu Kyi (Burma), Benigno Aquino (Philippines), Pramedya Ananta Toer (Indonesia), Shih Ming-teh (Taiwan), and Chia Thye Poh (Singapore), can be found in Dr Chee Soon Juans book: To Be Free Stories from Asias Struggles against Oppression, published by Monash Asia Institute in Australia. The book is available at the Select Books, #03-15, Tanglin Shopping Centre, 19 Tanglin Road, Singapore 247909 (Tel: 6732-1515)