Pity those who pine for the past regime: minister

NEW ERA: The Ministry of Education announced the Democracy Hall would be officially reopened to the public this morning at 10am following its work

By Jenny W. Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Mon, Dec 10, 2007 - Page 1

The National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall (台灣民主紀念館) and the new inscription on the hall's main arch epitomizes the nation's democracy and we should sympathize and pity those who still pine after the past regime, Minister of Education Tu Cheng-sheng (杜正勝) said after workers completed installation of the new inscription on the hall at 4pm yesterday.

Tu said the 240,000m2 area, located in the heart of Taipei City, was "holy ground" for Taiwan's democracy.

The area, surrounded by its signature blue-trimmed white walls and its main hall, was built in 1980 in honor of former dictator Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), who ruled Taiwan for 27 years until 1975.

The change of name is part of a government effort to rid the country of all remnants of Chiang's legacy. Back in May, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) ordered the eradication of any Chiang or China-related artifacts to signify the end of the past authoritarian regime.

"Over the years, several large-scale demonstrations were held here demanding a democratic government that respected the universal principle of human rights," Tu said.

"This is where the Aboriginal tribes fought for their land rights and their right to self-govern. This is where tens of thousands of students protested against a corrupt government and this is where the Taiwanese people chastised China when it passed the `Anti-Secession Law'," he said.

Tu said he understood that "a select few beneficiaries" of the Chiang regime might experience "separation anxiety" when seeing the hall change from a shrine worshipping a dictator to a place honoring the nation's emerging democracy.

"We urge those who are still nostalgic for the past regime to break free from the shackles of authoritarian rule and embrace democracy," he said.

The Ministry of Education announced the hall would be officially reopened to the public this morning at 10am after having been fenced off since last Thursday.

The ministry also confirmed reports that one of the characters of the original name plaque broke in half during the dismantling process, but gave assurances that it had been sent for repair.

So far the ministry has not made it clear where the original inscription would be stored, except to say the artifact would be kept in a safe place.

The project has sparked polarized reactions from the public. While the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) praised the project as a giant leap in the nation's push for full democracy, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lambasted the move as a "dirty election tactic" meant to secure votes in the upcoming elections.

In the midst of the arguments over the hall's fate, ministry Secretary-General Chuang Kuo-jung (莊國榮), who obtained his law degree from Munich University, has become a high-profile public figure following his snappy comebacks and caustic remarks about the pan-blue camp.

The DPP has labeled him "a shining star" and a "courageous man who speaks for the people." KMT supporters, however, have slammed the former assistant professor as a "pathetic blemish" on Taiwan's education system and the DPP's newest "hitman."

"I only answer to myself and no one else," Chuang said, responding to the criticism.

Chuang also branded KMT presidential hopeful Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) a "sissy," saying he was befuddled by Ma's popularity among female voters. Earlier this week, Chuang accused Taipei City Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) of imposing "blue terror" when the city tried to stop the construction work from proceeding.

When asked if the ministry approved of Chuang's conduct over the last few days, Tu said Chuang is "a model public servant worthy of emulation by all government workers."