“During almost half a century, Kim Dae Jung has been not only a symbol of democratic values in the Republic of Korea, but also a heroic figure in its progress towards democracy. He has won the admiration of his people and of the leaders of all continents.”
Liberty Medal International Selection Commission
President of the Republic of Korea
July 4, 1999
Governor Ridge, Mayor Rendell, Ambassador Foglietta, Ms. Aikens, Superintendent of Independence Historic Park, and distinguished guests!
It gives me profound honor and joy to be awarded the prestige and distinction of The Liberty Medal on this day, the 223rd anniversary of Independence Day, in this city, the place where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States were written.
A Korean, who had fought with his life, living by those immortal words, “Give me liberty or give me death”, stands before you as the President of a democratic government. Last year, he spoke to the United States Congress, and this year he speaks as the recipient of the Liberty Medal. The honor is all too great.
In my long suffering for freedom and democracy, the United States gave me infinite support and inspiration. Twice, just before death, my life was spared by US intervention.
Of course, what the United States tried to save was not an individual. Rather, it was the aspiration of the Korean people to free themselves from dictatorship, and the values of liberty and human dignity that this great nation embodies.
Thus, the honor today is a tribute to the Korean people and their love for liberty, and a triumph for the people of the United States who made it possible. Friends, I am truly grateful.
I share the award with all the people around the world who cherish true freedom and have dedicated themselves to its growth.
Ladies and gentlemen!
I have had a life-long pilgrimage toward freedom. Along the journey, certain forces have sustained me.
The first is the Christ that I believe in. He gave his life upon the Holy Cross for the rights of the oppressed people of Israel. He taught us how to be free in spirit.
He also told us to follow him bearing the cross as he had, if we willed to be his disciples. The cross was my training toward freedom.
The second is my understanding of history. Throughout history, wherever in the world, those who fought for liberty and justice ultimately prevailed. Too many times, the reality was grim. But I was always certain that history would make me a winner.
The third is my view of life. I have believed that success and happiness in life lies not in what one becomes, but in how one lives. I believe in living forthright by my conscience.
“Conscience in action” is my motto in life.
The fourth has been the support of my wife and children. They have been my companions in the pilgrimage toward freedom.
I still remember the experience in 1980. I had been sentenced to death. I was waiting for execution day in the army prison. My wife and children came to visit me. We all prayed to God in tears. We cried together.
But no one in my family told me to compromise with the military dictatorship. They all encouraged me to keep my faith in God, and in freedom.
The military government tried to justify the forged trial by painting me as a pro-communist. But I have always been against communism. I have firmly believed that the only way to prevail over communism is to promote freedom. For I have always known that by going against human freedom, communism was going against the tide of history.
I also knew that freedom leads to greater freedom when it goes together with tolerance. And so, after becoming President, I forgave all the past rulers who had persecuted me and sentenced me to death.
I achieved reconciliation with Japan, a neighbor who for a hundred years caused Koreans grave suffering and anguish. It was during my visit to Japan in October of last year.
And toward North Korea, I still oppose communism. But in the spirit of brotherhood, I am promoting reconciliation and cooperation with the North so as to free ourselves from the threat of war, and open a new era where Koreans of both sides can together pursue prosperity and wellbeing in the safety of peaceful coexistence. In doing so, we have the full support of the United States and Japan. All of this is in keeping with the true spirit of the Liberty Medal that is so dear to all of us.
Ladies and gentlemen!
Regardless of when, regardless of where, liberty is the very value that makes human beings most human.
For a time, the argument that democracy did not suit Asia made the rounds. However, it was only the self-justification of dictatorship or the result of insufficient scholarship. Human dignity and the spirit of freedom, the substance of democracy, has a long and rich tradition in Asia.
Now, the majority of the countries in Asia have turned to democracy. The recent elections in Indonesia, I believe, represents another important advance for democracy in Asia.
In Africa, too, democracy is growing. In President Nelson Mandela, the continent has given us a great leader of democracy. Liberty is spreading around the world.
Democracy’s respect for the freedom and initiative of private citizens is also indispensable for sound economic development. Where there is no democracy, there is no market economy. Where there is no market economy, there is no competitive economic growth. This was the root cause of the economic crisis in Asia.
Korea attained rapid economic growth since the 1970s, but it failed to achieve healthy economic expansion because successive dictatorships denied the people genuine democracy.
Politics and business collusion, government control over the financial sector, irregularities and corruption led to the loss of economic competitiveness. Exports slowed down, foreign investors turned away, and foreign debts piled up. This was the country on the verge of bankruptcy that I inherited as President.
I was convinced that the fundamental problem was the lack of democracy. Democracy and market economy are like two wheels of a cart. Left apart neither can succeed. With such belief, I have promoted bold reforms in the financial, corporate, public, and labor sectors of the country.
As a result, the Korean economy could overcome the foreign currency crisis.
Exchange rates, interest rates and prices have stabilized. The unemployment figure has begun to go down, and the economy is recovering. Rebounding from a minus 5.8% growth last year, the Korean economy is expected to achieve a 5% positive growth this year.
The world is amazed at Korea’s economic come-back. However, this is no miracle. It is the result of the Korean people and government working together, to put into practice our belief that the strengthening of political and economic rights is the best way to overcome the greatest crisis the country has known since the Korean War.
I know that the support of the IMF, IBRD and other international organizations, and of the United States, Japan, and the EU has been of immense help in Korea’s economic recovery. I am deeply grateful. But I report to you that the greatest contributor in our overcoming the economic crisis was the practice of freedom.
Ladies and Gentlemen!
I believe that you honor me today, not just to reward me for my past dedication to democracy.
Rather, I believe and humbly accept that the honor is a solemn request and encouragement for me to rededicate my all to the further betterment of liberty in many corners of the world.
A new millennium is about to dawn upon us. What can be our dream for the new millennium?
First and foremost, the dignity and human rights, the political freedom of all the 5.8 billion people of the world must be secured.
Second, economic freedom of all nations and peoples must be expanded. The intervention and control of political power over economic activities should be done away with.
Third, social freedom must be guaranteed. Discrimination of race, gender and of all other kinds has to come to an end, and all must be guaranteed the basic conditions for living.
I will dedicate myself to firmly establishing these three freedoms, first in my homeland of Korea. I will continue to strive to spread the spirit of liberty to our brethren in the North and to all other dark corners of the world.
I know that there is no such thing as perfect liberty. I know that our mission as humankind lies in the constant endeavor toward the perfection of liberty.
The history of the human race is evolving in the direction of greater liberty. The future of mankind belongs to liberty. When we side with liberty, we are with God who implanted the love of liberty in all of us. When we side with liberty, we enhance our own dignity.
Freedom is like air - difficult to appreciate when you are living in it. I am one of those people who well appreciate the value of freedom. And so today, I am awarded The Liberty Medal.
Accepting the honor, I determine to become an honoree whom you can be proud of for a long time to come. I wish to be remembered as “a man dedicated to liberty”.
May there be everlasting glory on the Liberty Medal, on Philadelphia, and on the United States of America. Thank you.