In Kim Dae Jung country, Koreans are fiercely loyal to Kim and resentful of US
Kwangju, South Korea — South Cholla Province is Kim Dae Jung country. Born on an island off the coast of Korea's southwest province in 1924, Mr. Kim grew up in the port city of Mokpo. It was in Mokpo that he ran his first successful campaign for Korea's National Assembly in 1961.
His rise to fame culminated 10 years later, when he nearly defeated Park Chung Hee in a presidential race, staging what some say was a brilliant campaign. Kim's gift for oratory can draw tears even from his detractors.
The official vote count gave Kim 46 percent of the vote. Kim says he would have won but for government manipulation of the count.
But ever since Kim's near electoral triumph, the government has considered him a pariah. It has tried to portray him as a radical leftist, although his politics would fit in easily with American-style liberalism.
Kim was kidnapped by Korean agents in Japan and brought back forcibly to Korea in 1973. He has been in and out of prison ever since.
In 1979, after the assassination of President Park Chung Hee, Kim was free again and was preparing another run for the presidency -- this time against rival opposition leader Kim Young Sam, and Mr. Park's former prime minister, Kim Jong Pil.
But the election never took place. The Army, under the leadership of then Gen. Chun Doo Hwan, took control of the government, citing social unrest as a reason for the coup. Kim was arrested, and within days the city of Kwangju, capital of Kim's home province, rose in revolt against paratroopers who had been sent in. At least several hundred people died in the revolt. Kim was convicted of orchestrating the uprising from his prison cell.
For much of Korea, the Kwangju revolt is a fading memory. But in Kwangju, residents continue to blame President Chun for the violence.
``People here cannot forget,'' says a pastor. ``They are scared and angry. There is unhealed rage.''
Yet the government has tried to make amends. It poured money into the province, which lags far behind the rest of Korea economically.
But in other ways, people say, the government's efforts have been like ``pouring salt into the wound.'' It has offered large sums of money to people injured by the government troops. Although some people have taken the money, others have proudly refused.
Kim's popularity may or may not have faded in Korea. But in Kwangju his supporters remain fiercely loyal to his cause. ``Koreans' confidence in Kim is unmovable,'' says one.
Kim's supporters also blame the United States for failing to protect Korea's democracy. ``The United States planted the tree of democracy here, but it has not stayed to ensure that the tree will bear fruit,'' says a lawyer.
Many believe the US endorsed a coup in the Army that propelled Chun to power. During the coup, Chun drew troops off the demilitarized zone that were formally under US command.
Kim's close supporters say that they welcome Kim's return to Korea, but clearly they are worried.
``People not so close to Kim in the opposition want him to come so they can use Kim for their own purposes, regardless of what happens to him,'' says a close friend.