Kim Dae Jung (South Korea)
Kim Dae Jung was born in South Korea in 1925. He began his political career in 1954 and in 1961 he was elected to the National Assembly. The assembly was disbanded only three days later due to a military coup lead by Park Chung Hee. Two years later Kim Dae-Jung was elected to the National Assembly again and began to come to the forefront of his party. In 1965 he became the speaker for the Democratic Party. A year later he became the chairperson of the Policy Planning Committee, which outlined the party’s guidelines. In 1971 he was a presidential candidate of the New Democratic Party and went up against the powerful Park Chung Hee. Despite the ruling party’s illegal vote tampering, Kim Dae Jung received 46 percent of the votes. Park Chung Hee became increasingly radical over the next few years. He initiated martial law, banned all political activities, and reformed the constitution so that he could serve a life term as president.
Kim Dae Jung’s attempt to lead a democratic opposition against the regime led to his repeated imprisonment. He was also the victim of many politically motivated attacks. Despite everything he was able to create the Independence Day Declaration for Democratization. The declaration of independence and democracy led to a wave of pro-democratic demonstrations in Korea.
After the assassination of Park Chung Lee in 1979 the country was plagued with political unrest for months. During this time period Kim Dae Jung was repeatedly imprisoned and in 1980 he was sentenced to death. Two years later his sentence was repealed and he was allowed to travel to the US. In 1985 he returned from exile and took up the pro-democratic movement with renewed vigor. In 1987 all charges against Kim Dae Jung were dropped. After the democratization of South Korea he was elected president. His election was the first power change in the modern history of Korea.
President Kim Dae Jung’s vision for the Korean people was to improve the relationship of South Korea with North Korea. He and the North Korean leader Kim Jong Il signed an agreement in 2000 that should lead to a better future for all Koreans. In 2003 Kim Dae Jung resigned as president and retired from political life. He died in 2009 in Seoul.
Kim Dae Jung received the Bruno Kreisky Prize in 1981 for his work leading the democratic movement in South Korea. He brought justice, democracy, and a respect for human rights to Korea. For his politics of equalization, and his new reconciliation with North Korea he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000.