Sixty years after a bloody event that continues to shape Taiwan's society, harsh words and angry exchanges yesterday between top political leaders proved how difficult it is to overcome the past.
President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) rejected accusations that he was inciting ethnic tensions by blaming dictator Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) for the 228 Incident, a violent uprising and crackdown that began on Feb. 27, 1947, and resulted in the murder of perhaps 20,000 civilians.
"How can there be any truth if the perpetrator is afraid of facing it?" the president asked.
Chen made the remarks while meeting victims and their families at the Presidential Office yesterday morning.
He said he has never called the incident an ethnic issue.
The administration will "adjust the special treatment" extended to Chiang by renaming Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall and the presidential burial sites, Chen said.
He also called on the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) to "face the truth" and vowed to take action to assign responsibility.
A victims' group presented a petition to Chen, requesting that the Ministry of Justice investigate the 228 Incident, and that the legislature pass a law establishing a special court to put Chiang and his accomplices on trial.
At another event in Chiayi County, the president formally apologized to the victims on behalf of the government.
Meanwhile, efforts by a former KMT chairman to address the topic have stirred anger among some relatives of victims.
Presidential hopeful Ma Ying-jeou (
Hsiao walked into the room shouting "Stop making political shows, Ma Ying-jeou!"
"Don't politicize the event anymore! I am the real victim!" he said.
Hsiao stormed out of the room, refusing to speak to reporters who approached him, except to say: "I have a lot of resentment, but so what? Nobody really cares."
Another 228 family member later joined Hsiao and urged Ma to admit the party's culpability.
Ma began meeting with 228 victims and family members when he was the mayor of Taipei, but his attempts to engage them have often ended in protests and angry confrontations.
Ma made no remarks in response to Hsiao, merely calling on the president not to use the event as a weapon against rivals.
"It is more crucial to solve the country's economic and social problems, instead of taking advantage of a historical event for election purposes," Ma said after the meeting.
It is still too early to pass judgment on Chiang, he added.
Another KMT heavyweight, Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (
He said that, no matter how the incident was handled, victims' families should be able to see their loved ones' spirits go to rest.
Wang Jin-pyng made the remarks when he met a delegation of victims and their families -- led by Wang Wen-hung (
Wang Wen-hung called on the legislature to pass a special law to establish a special commission on the investigation of the truth of the 228 Incident.
"What the government has done amounts to 90 [percent], and we need help from the legislature to finish the remaining 10 [percent]," Wang Wen-hung said.
Meanwhile, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairman Yu Shyi-kun urged the government to stop treating the late dictator as a hero.