Award ceremony speech

Presentation Speech by Gunnar Berge, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Oslo, December 10, 2000.

Translation of the Norwegian text.

Your Majesty, Your Royal Highnesses, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for the year 2000 to Kim Dae-jung. He receives the prize for his lifelong work for democracy and human rights in South Korea and East Asia in general, and for peace and reconciliation with North Korea in particular. We welcome the Laureate here today.

The question has been raised of whether it is too early to award the prize for a process of reconciliation which has only just begun. It would suffice to say in reply that Kim Dae-jung’s work for human rights made him a worthy candidate irrespective of the recent developments in relations between the two Korean states. It is also clear, however, that his strong commitment to reconciliation with North Korea, and the results that have been achieved – especially in the past year – added a new and important dimension to Kim Dae-jung’s candidacy.

While recognising that reverses in international peace work are something one has to be prepared for, the Nobel Committee nevertheless adheres to the principle: nothing ventured, nothing gained. The Peace Prize is a reward for the steps that have been taken so far. However, as so often before in the history of the Nobel Peace Prize, it is intended this year, too, as an encouragement to advance still further along the long road to peace and reconciliation.

This is to a large extent a matter of courage: Kim Dae-jung has had the will to break with fifty years of ingrained hostility, and to reach out a cooperative hand across what has probably been the world’s most heavily guarded frontier. His has been the kind of personal and political courage which, regrettably, is all too often missing in other conflict-ridden regions. The same applies to peace work as to life in general when you set out to cross the highest mountains: the first steps are the hardest. But you can count on plenty of company along the glamorous finishing stretch. Gunnar Roaldkvam, a writer from Stavanger, puts this so simply and so aptly in his poem “The last drop”:

Once upon a time
there were two drops of water;
one was the first,
the other the last.

The first drop
was the bravest.

I could quite fancy
being the last drop,
the one that makes everything
run over,
so that we get
our freedom back.

But who wants to be
the first

Today, Kim Dae-jung is the president of a democratic South Korea. His path to power has been long – extremely long. For decades he fought a seemingly hopeless fight against an authoritarian regime. One may well ask where he found the strength. His own answer is: “I used all my strength to resist the dictatorial regimes, because there was no other way to defend the people and promote democracy. I felt like a homeowner whose house was invaded by a robber. I had to fight the intruder with my bare hands to protect my family and property without thinking of my own safety.”

In the 1950s, when Kim ran for election to the national assembly, the police were used to prevent support for any other candidates than the regime’s own. He was not elected until 1961, but that success was short-lived: a military coup three days later led to the dissolution of the assembly. But Kim did not give up. In 1963, after ten years of almost continuous political struggle, he finally took a seat in the national assembly as an opposition representative. The ruling party, it should be added, tried to buy him. Kim was not for sale.

In 1971, Kim Dae-jung ran in the presidential election, winning 46 per cent of the votes despite considerable ballot-rigging. This made him a serious threat to the military regime. As a result, he spent many long years, first in prison, then in house arrest and in exile in Japan and the United States. He also underwent kidnapping and assassination attempts. Somehow enduring all these trials, Kim kept up his outspoken opposition to the regime.

As a member of a delegation from the Norwegian Storting, I visited South Korea in 1979, a visit which among other things brought me into contact with supporters of Kim Dae-jung. I am glad I was able then to serve as a link to important connections in Scandinavia.

Even under severe prison conditions, Kim Dae-jung managed to find things to live for. With indomitable optimism, he wrote about the pleasures he found in prison. Reading all kinds of eastern and western books: theology, politics, economics, history and literature. The brief meetings with his family. The letters from those closest to him, and the opportunities to write back, despite all the attempts to prevent him. And finally the flowers in the tiny patch of a garden where he was allowed to spend an hour a day.

Kim Dae-jung’s story has a lot in common with the experience of several other Peace Prize Laureates, especially Nelson Mandela and Andrei Sakharov. And with that of Mahatma Gandhi, who did not receive the prize but would have deserved it. To outsiders, Kim’s invincible spirit may appear almost superhuman. On this point, too , the Laureate takes a more sober view: “Many people tell me,” he says, “that I am courageous, because I have been to prison six or seven times and overcome several close calls in my life. However, the truth is that I am as timid now as I was in my boyhood. Considering what I have experienced in my life, I should not be afraid of being imprisoned. But, whenever I was locked up, I was invariably fearful and anxious.” Self-knowledge of this order does not detract from the courage!

Kim Dae-jung ran in two more presidential elections, in 1987 and 1992. If no military regime stood in his way, the argument was used against him, in a country of sharp regional divisions, that he came from the wrong region. Finally wearying of the struggle, he withdrew from active politics after the 1992 election.

But in 1997 Kim Dae-jung saw a new opportunity. Incredibly enough, with his political enemies divided amongst themselves, the military regime’s leading opponent was elected president. That was the definitive proof that South Korea had at long last found a place among the world’s democracies.

The idea of revenge must have occurred to the new president. Instead, as with Nelson Mandela, forgiveness and reconciliation became the main planks in Kim’s political platform and guided the steps he took. Kim Dae-jung forgave most things – including the unforgivable.

What had taken place was a democratic revolution. But even after a revolution, some features of the old order live on. In a democratic perspective, South Korea still has some way to go where reform of the legal system and of security legislation is concerned. According to Amnesty International, there are still long-term political prisoners in South Korean gaols. Others maintain that the rights of organized labour are not sufficiently safeguarded. Our reply is that we feel confident that Kim Dae-jung will complete the process of democratisation of which he has been the foremost spokesman for almost half a century.

An important debate is currently being conducted in Asia concerning the status of human rights. It is argued by some that such rights are a western invention, a tool for achieving western political and cultural dominance. Kim rejects this view, just as he also denies that there are any special Asian, as distinct from universal, human rights. The same way of thinking led the Nobel Committee, in its grounds for this year’s award, to draw particular attention to the important part Kim has played in the development of human rights throughout East Asia. As José Ramos Horta, Peace Prize Laureate in 1996 and with us here today, has stated, Kim also vigorously took up the cause of East Timor. There was great symbolic force in the decision to place the South Korean army, used only a few years previously to suppress political opposition in its own country, at the disposal of the global community in defence of human rights in East Timor.

Kim Dae-jung has also actively supported Aung San Suu Kyi, Peace Prize Laureate in 1991, in her heroic struggle against the dictatorship in Burma . Our thoughts today also reach out to her, prevented as she has so far been from coming to Norway to receive the Peace Prize she so richly deserves. Unfortunately the regime is once again stepping up its pressure on Aung San Suu Kyi.

Kim was elected president on a program of extensive reforms in South Korea, and an active policy of cooperation with North Korea now widely spoken of as the “sunshine policy”. The term originated in Aesop’s fable about the traveller who in a strong north wind drew his cloak ever more closely about him, only to have to take it off in the end because of the warmth of the sun.

The sunshine policy is designed, if not to stop the wind, then at least to lessen the cold through gradually increasing interaction and an emphasis on the common interests of the two states. Kim Dae-jung has made it clear that South Korea has no intention of annexing or absorbing its northern neighbour. The target is reunification, although both parties know that it will take time and will require the most thorough preparation.

There can be little doubt that to date Kim Dae-jung has been the prime mover behind the ongoing process of détente and reconciliation. Perhaps his role can best be compared with Willy Brandt‘s, whose Ostpolitik was of such fundamental importance in the normalisation between the two German states, and won him the Peace Prize. Brandt’s Ostpolitik alone could not have led to German unification, but it was a prerequisite for the union which followed in 1989-90. From South Korea’s point of view, the political side of Germany’s unification looks attractive, while the economic side, with a price tag that may be much higher in Korea than in Germany, is a warning to make haste slowly.

The dialogue between Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jung II at the Pyongyang summit last June led to more than loose declarations and airy rhetoric. The pictures of family members meeting after five decades of separation made a deep impression all over the world. However restricted and controlled these contacts may be, the tears of joy are a stark contrast to the cold, hatred and discouragement felt so strongly by all visitors to the border at Panmunjon.

The people of North Korea have lived under extremely difficult conditions for a long time. The international community can not be indifferent to their hunger, or remain silent in the face of the country’s massive political repression. On the other hand, North Korea’s leaders deserve recognition for their part in the first steps towards reconciliation between the two countries.

In most of the world, the cold war ice age is over. The world may see the sunshine policy thawing the last remnants of the cold war on the Korean peninsula. It may take time. But the process has begun, and no one has contributed more than today’s Laureate, Kim Dae-jung. In the poet’s words, “The first drop was the bravest.”

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