Powerful people stand in line with ordinary people at Roh Hoe-chan’s wake

Posted on : 2018-07-26 18:23 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Funeral for Justice Party lawmaker offers a scene of equality
Yellow post-it notes express the sadness and grieving of mourners at the funeral of Justice Party lawmaker Roh Hoe-chan on July 25. (Kim Jung-hyo
Yellow post-it notes express the sadness and grieving of mourners at the funeral of Justice Party lawmaker Roh Hoe-chan on July 25. (Kim Jung-hyo

The final image we see of a person sometimes encapsulates his or her entire life. The sight of the funeral home remembering Roh Hoe-chan as a National Assembly member who rejected special privileges and a politician respected across party lines was reminiscent of the paths he had taken in life – a scene of mourning with privileges or boundaries.

“There were no special privileges there. Even the senior-level figures who ‘do important things’ in the country had to stand in line and move forward step by step to pay their condolences. Everyone was equal in their mourning of Roh Hoe-chan’s loss, and nobody was skipped over or cut in line.”

This was the message written by Human Rights Foundation Saram executive director Park Rae-gun on his Facebook page on July 25 after visiting Roh’s wake at Yonsei University Severance Hospital in Seoul’s Seodaemun District. As Park described it, Roh’s wake was notable for sights seldom seen at other funeral homes. Prominent and powerful figures stood in line to wait with ordinary mourners, entering the wake together with them to pay their condolence calls. It was not hard to spot politicians and senior officials amongst the line of mourners waiting to go inside, which stretched to dozens of meters as more and more people began arriving for the second day of the wake on July 24.

Ruling and opposition party politicians like Party for Democracy and Peace lawmaker Park Jie-won waited patiently in line with ordinary mourners for upwards of a half hour, as did Gyeonggi Province Gov. Lee Jae-myung and JTBC president Sohn Suk-hee. Nobody could be seen attempting to take advantage of their “privileged” status. The Justice Party reported 18,101 visitors to Roh’s wake as of 10 pm that day.

Concerned about increasing wait times, the party simplified the condolence procedures, and ordinary mourners rubbed shoulders with prominent figures inside the mortuary. As mourners started pouring in on July 24, the Justice Party made the decision not to receive single visitors if possible and to omit procedures of flower dedication, incense burning, deep bowing, and mutual bowing. The process was streamlined into groups of 10 to 20 mourners entering the mortuary simultaneously to pay a silent tribute without removing their shoes. Former Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan and Democratic Party lawmaker Sohn Hye-won entered in groups alongside members of the public to pay their respects to Noh.

The truly diverse group of figures seeing Noh off on his final journey was evidence of a political life spent as an “all-around player” in every walk of life. Unfortunately, members of the semiconductor worker health and human rights watchdog group Banollim were unable to share their joy after securing a recent arbitration agreement from Samsung in their battle over the Samsung Electronics semiconductor worker leukemia issue, nor were the KTX crew members victorious in their battle to return to their jobs.

There are some for whom the loss of a voice speaking out for all minorities looms especially large. One of the visitors to the wake that day was transgender TV personality Harisu, who declared her support for Roh when he ran in 2008 to represent Seoul’s Nowon-C region. Roh was the lawmaker who sponsored a special bill to allow transgender people to alter the gender listed on their family register.

His loss was also lamented by groups working for disabled persons’ rights, as he was one of the sponsors of the 2005 Act on the Prohibition of Discrimination of Disabled Persons. The group Solidarity against Disability Discrimination released a statement of mourning immediately after Noh’s death, and members of the group arrived at the wake in wheelchairs to pay condolences.

Other visitors to the wake included JoongAng Holdings chairman Hong Seok-hyon – the central figure in the “Samsung X-file case” that changed Noh’s political fortunes – and conservative politicians such as Liberty Korea Party lawmakers Suh Chung-won, Na Kyung-won, and Won Yoo-chul.

“Now that he is gone, it is all the more clear that he was someone whose human and rational side drew support across lines of ideology,” a Justice Party official said.

By Um Ji-won and Seo Young-ji, staff reporters

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