It was a dramatic moment in South Korea’s short but turbulent history. Former president Chun Doo-hwan, 57, went before a television camera last week and publicly apologized for the corruption and brutality of his eight-year-long military regime. “It is more than unbearable for me to face you and make this confession of my shameful deeds,” said Chun. Blinking back tears, he promised to turn over millions of dollars in personal assets and political funds and to “not shrink from any punishment from you, the people.” The son of an unlicensed acupuncturist who rose to general and then, after a 1979 coup, to president, ended his performance with a stiff bow, saying, “I am truly sorry, my fellow citizens.”
Shortly after his address, as an estimated 30 million Koreans watched on TV, Chun was shown leaving his bunker-like downtown Seoul villa—one of three homes he relinquished to the state, along with nearly $4 million in personal wealth, $24 million in surplus political funds and two expensive golf club memberships. Chun’s public apology was a decisive moment for the country of 43 million people who exchanged Chun’s autocratic rule for democracy in last December’s elections. The political survival of current President Roh Taewoo, 55, a military academy classmate and former protégé of Chun, depends greatly on whether the public accepts the act of repen-
tance or seeks an even more radical purging of the sins of the previous regime. “What has made many people unhappy,” said one political observer, “is not only Chun’s actions but his defiance, his failure to repent. It is not sincerity they are looking for but humiliation.”
Nine months after he relinquished power to Roh last February, Chun appeared clearly humiliated as he and his sobbing wife, Lee Soonja, headed for political exile. Late Wednesday, state television showed footage of Chun and his wife being guided by monks around a Buddhist temple in the remote northeastern town of Inje. The couple is expected to stay at the monastery for a month, where Chun has begun what he described as “a quiet period of repentance.”
In the seven weeks since the Olympics ended in Seoul,
Marxist students have intensified their antigovernment demonstrations, throwing fire bombs at riot police and calling for the execution of Chun and the ouster of Roh.
Meanwhile, Roh’s minority government has begun a major political housecleaning. As many as 11 of Chun’s rela-
tives—including two brothers and two cousins—and his wife’s relatives have been arrested and charged with crimes ranging from corruption to influence - peddling. Televised daily parliamentary hearings recently have shown Chun’s former ministers and aides subjected to hostile questions by the opposition about allegations of immense abuse of power. Following Chun’s apology, top leaders of the ruling Democratic Justice Party resigned. And observers say that a cabinet shakeup is likely in the next few weeks as Roh tries to sweep away remnants of z Chun’s Fifth Republic.
§ While Chun is widely credZ ited with creating the coun| try’s strong economy and ^ with bringing the Olympics to “ Seoul, students, workers and, finally, middle-class Koreans increasingly objected to his dictatorial methods. In 1980, he ordered the army to brutally suppress an uprising against the imposition of martial law in the southern city of Kwangju. The official number of dead was listed at 193, unofficially at 2,000. He also closed opposition newspapers and was considered indirectly responsible for the deaths of at least 54 inmates in military reeducation camps. According to investigators, Chun also extorted more than $95 million from industrialists for the Ilhae Foundation, his personal “think-tank.”
At week’s end, Roh issued a televised appeal to forgive the former president and promised amnesty for all political detainees jailed by Chun. He also promised compensation to victims of the Kwangju uprising and for those killed or injured in the re-education camps. But his pleas failed to win the support of opposition leaders and thousands of dissidents who clashed with riot police in Seoul demanding Chun’s arrest. South Korea’s two main opposition parties have continued to call for a full investigation. “Roh does not seem to have a correct understanding of the seriousness of the current situation,” said Kim Dae-jung, leader of the largest opposition bloc in parliament.
According to a Seoul newspaper poll last week, 47 per cent of respondents said that Chun’s apology was insufficient. But for all the criticism, many Koreans seemed hopeful. “The people are strong and mature,” said Kim. “They don’t want to see political instability again.” Roh can only hope that he is right.
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