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13 Years Needed to Open the Park Chung-hee Memorial
The Park Chung-hee Memorial-Library opens today in Sangam-dong, western Seoul. Ground was broken for the memorial honoring President Park in 1999 with the support of the Kim Dae-jung administration, but the project was subjected to 13 long years of ups and downs. The Roh Moo-hyun administration (2003-2008) rejected funding for the project on the grounds of insufficient public donations, putting a temporary hold on it. The state funding resumed along with an increase in public donations only after a lawsuit that went up to the Supreme Court.
The memorial hall is small and shabby compared with President Park`s achievements. But its significance is far from small; it will be an important base for the research and education of Korea`s contemporary history. Korea in the 1960s to the 70s, symbolized by the rule of President Park, achieved an unprecedented transformation from one of the world`s poorest countries to a prosperous nation. Today, the growth of the Republic of Korea is globally recognized among the most brilliant success stories after the end of World War II.
In this sense, the memorial project for President Park is tantamount to a celebration of Koreans, who have overcome an age of adversity to usher in a great era. The memorial is therefore a space for sharing the meaning of the blood and sweat we shed as well as the illustrious accomplishments we have achieved together.
President Park deserves to be an icon of the Republic of Korea. We were able to enhance our national prestige and make it to the center stage of world history, thanks to the successful industrialization accomplished during the rule of Park Chung-hee. Together with Samsung Group founder Lee Byung-chull, Hyundai Group founder Chung Ju-yung and POSCO founder Park Tae-joon, President Park brought about a miraculous era of prosperity for Korea.
As a result, developing countries all over the world today regard Korea as their benchmarking model. They try to learn from Korea`s economic development and the leadership of its rulers. Thus, the leadership of Park Chung-hee is a brand asset of the Republic of Korea, which is coveted by all countries aspiring to escape poverty and achieve prosperity. On the occasion of the opening of the Park Chung-hee Memorial-Library, we should start building a tradition of positive historical views and social integration as well as renewing our awareness of the history of the Republic of Korea.
In spite of the universal recognition of our successful nation-building efforts, there have been few positive appraisals or memorial projects honoring our political leaders. Most nations, regardless of whether they are prosperous or fragile, create memorials of their national leaders to serve as the basis of national unity and historical inheritance. But we have been an exception to this worldwide practice. It has always seemed that the Republic of Korea achieved success without successful leaders.
It is hard to deny that the achievements of certain leaders have been highlighted and those of others denigrated according to political interests. The resultant division and damage to national integration have caused enormous social costs. There are presidential archives and libraries for former presidents Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung and the Roh Moo-hyun Foundation is also actively working, but the nation still lacks state-level endeavors to build monuments or conduct memorial projects honoring former presidents.
Taking the opening of the Park Chung-hee Memorial-Library as a turning point, the nation should start making proper evaluations and undertaking memorial projects for our forgotten national leaders. Memorial projects for presidents would be living history and foundations for national integration. They also would express our determination to share and inherit the meaning of the era in which we have lived, so as to build a greater country and hand it down to posterity.
In this regard, the Park Chung-hee Memorial-Library should be operated as a space to imbue the Korean people with pride in their country and inspire and motivate them to bravely face challenges for the future, rather than as an exhibition hall for historical mementos. It should also be developed into a mecca of research and education to provide wisdom and lessons to all developing countries that strive to build a prosperous nation by benchmarking the Republic of Korea, instead of a place to show off our past success. This is the way to make this memorial a great hall to properly evaluate and celebrate our nation`s trajectory through the rough tide of contemporary history.