Thu, Dec 26, 2002 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Lien Chan's fate should match Lott's

It's ironic isn't it that one of the criticisms usually made of Americans and their culture is that there is almost no historical memory. The US is, so the conventional wisdom goes, a country populated by people escaping the burden of history, and indeed from a European perspective American understanding of how things became the way they are -- and that is what history is all about -- always seems a little scant. And yet recent events have shown Americans to have the historical grasp of a Gibbon or a Thucydides compare with Taiwanese. If their is any nation of which it can be said that its people are historical amnesiacs it is this one.

Consider for example former Senate majority leader Trent Lott -- number three in People magazine's list of "losers of the year," by the way. At the 100th birthday of Strom Thurmond, senator for South Carolina, Lott remarked that had Thurmond won his election bid in 1948, the US would not have many of the problems that it faced today. The problem with Thurmond's "Dixiecrat"campaign was that it was almost entirely on the basis of continued racial segregation. Americans showed, quite admirably, that they were ashamed of this part of their past, and disgusted with Lott for appearing to speak well of it. Even President George W. Bush took the highly unusual step of delivering a public rebuke to Lott. The senator, unsurprisingly, lost his leadership position, and is probably condemned permanently to the political wilderness.

An interesting and salutary story of someone identifying with a past disgrace and paying the penalty for it. It's not that unusual in Europe of course where the specter of Nazism, fascism and communism has taught that continent to be very careful how it speaks about the good old days. Contrast this with Taiwan. Recently KMT Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) went on the record saying that he wished to "sever his ties" with the 12 years that Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) was head of the party. This might seem innocent enough at face value -- the current leader doesn't think his predecessor did a good job -- but it is a faux pas as serious as Lott's and it is only because Taiwanese are the world's real historical amnesiacs that Lien can get away with it. For what this comment amounts to is a repudiation of all Taiwan's democratic development since the lifting of martial law.

During the 12 years Lee led the party, he pushed it, much against the will of the many in the party who were loath to give up their privileges, into democratization. Under Lee we saw the dissolution of the National Assembly and Legislative Yuan -- frozen in place since 1948 on the absurd principle that they could not be re-elected until elections could be held in China -- and their replacement by representative elected institutions. We saw democratic elections instituted for Taipei and Kaohsiung City mayors and eventually, after a huge fight against reactionary elements in the KMT for the presidency. At least as importantly, the Lee era saw the abandonment of imprisonment or exile for political reasons and a huge improvement in human rights.

Lien Chan doesn't like this, apparently. What he must prefer, and we would like to question him about this, is a Taiwan without democracy, with the black list, with political prisoners, perhaps even with the Taiwan Garrison Command and the assassinations that were a feature of Taiwanese political life well into the mid-1980s.

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