Roh Moo-hyun (Hangul: 노무현; Hanja: 盧武鉉; RR: No Muhyeon; Korean pronunciation: [no.mu.ɦjʌn]) GOM (1 September 1946 – 23 May 2009) was a South Korean politician who served as President of South Korea (2003–2008). Roh's pre-presidential political career was focused on human rights advocacy for student activists in South Korea. His electoral career later expanded to a focus on overcoming regionalism in South Korean politics, culminating in his election to the presidency. He achieved a large following among younger internet users, particularly at the website OhMyNews, which aided his success in the presidential election.
Roh's election was notable for the arrival in power of a new generation of Korean politicians, the so-called 386 Generation (people in their thirties, when the term was coined, who had attended university in the 1980s and who were born in the 1960s). This generation had been veterans of student protests against authoritarian rule, and advocated a conciliatory approach towards North Korea, even at the expense of good relations with the United States. Roh himself was the first South Korean president to be born after the end of Japanese rule in Korea.
However, due to his poor performance in economy and diplomacy, Roh was not a popular president, having the worst approval rating on average ever recorded in South Korean political history. His economic policy was often criticized for persisting with certain obsolete economic views and failing certain livelihood issues. There had been a considerable diplomatic dissonance between South Korea and its traditional allies during Roh's presidency as well. Former Bush administration officials such as Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates, in their published memoirs, claimed that Roh was anti-American and disclosed that there had been numerous conflicts between the U.S. and South Korea because of Roh's unpredictability. There has been criticism that Roh's anti-Americanism, nationalism, and pro-North Korean views contributed to a contradiction in diplomacy and impaired credibility in the international community. It also led to a decline in some of his popular support, especially among the older generation.
Despite high expectations in the beginning, his presidency encountered strong opposition from the conservative Grand National Party and media. They constantly accused him of incompetence, and insulting criticism was frequently published in the media. As a result, many of Roh's policies, including a plan to move the capital, and a plan to form a coalition with the opposition, were also attacked and made little progress.
After leaving office, Roh returned to his hometown of Bongha Maeul. He ran a duck farm and lived an ordinary life, sharing it through his blog. He also ran a website called "Democracy 2.0" to promote healthy online discussions. The constantly growing numbers of visits by his political supporters were seen as a threat to the Grand National Party. Fourteen months later, Roh was suspected of bribery by prosecutors, and the subsequent investigations attracted public attention. Roh committed suicide on 23 May 2009 by jumping from a mountain cliff behind his home, after saying that "there are too many people suffering because of me" on a suicide note on his PC. About 4 million people visited Roh's hometown Bongha Village in the week following his death. His suicide was confirmed by police.
Roh was born into a poor farming family on 1 September 1946, in Bongha Village near Gimhae and Busan, in southeasternSouth Korea. His parents had three boys and two girls, and Roh was the youngest of his family. In 1953, he entered Dae Chang Elementary School. He received high grades, but was quite often absent from school to assist his parents. While in sixth grade, with the encouragement of his school teacher, he became the president of the school. As he entered Jin-yeong middle school, a writing contest was held to commemorate Syngman Rhee's birthday. Roh tried to start a student movement against it, but was caught and suspended from the school.
Roh Moo-Hyun decided to become a lawyer due to the influence of his elder brother who had studied law but had died in a car accident. Roh studied on his own to pass the bar exam in 1975 (South Korea does not currently require bar examinees to have graduated from college, university, or law school). In 1977, he became a regional judge in Daejeon, but quit in 1978, and became a lawyer.
In 1981, he defended students who had been tortured for suspicion of possession of contraband literature. Following this he decided to become a human rights lawyer. In early 2003, he was quoted as saying, "After that defense, my life was totally changed. At first, even I couldn't believe that they had been tortured that harshly. However, when I saw their horrified eyes and their missing toenails, my comfortable life as a lawyer came to an end. I became a man that wanted to make a difference in the world." With fellow human rights lawyers, he pointed out that this case was forged, then claimed that the National Security Act (South Korea) itself should be judged.
In 1985 he started to participate in civic movements by assuming permanent power of attorney on behalf of the Busan council of citizen democracy. He opposed the autocratic regime in place at the time in South Korea, and participated in the pro-democracy June Democracy Movement in 1987 against Chun Doo-hwan. The same year he was jailed while investigating the cause of death of the Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering factory worker Lee Seok-Kyu, who had been killed by a stray police tear gas bullet while on strike. Roh was accused of 'unapproved interference in the case' and 'hindering the funeral'. Although he was released in twenty days because of public opinion against the arrest, his lawyer's license was revoked after the incident in political retribution. His lawyer's license was reinstated[when?] and he, along with Chun Jung Bae and Im Jong In, founded Haemaru Law firm.