A student demonstrator who demanded anonymity because he feared government reprisals said, "It seems we now have no immediate plans on what to do about the Olympics because it is more than a year away. We think it is wrong to assume that a sports festival should take precedence over everything, including the democratization of our country. But most of us hope the Olympics stay out of politics and will never be stained by politics."
Of course, both sides have stained the Olympics again and again for their own political ends. Chun is holding the Games hostage so he can perpetuate his regime in an atmosphere of maximum "stability." By warning of the possibility of Olympic "instability," the opposition appears to be using the Games to apply pressure to Chun. Yet Olympic officials believe that domestic politics pose no serious threat to next year's Games. Richard W. Pound, an International Olympic Committee executive board member from Canada, told SI's Anita Verschoth last week, "Everyone in [South] Korea wants the Games to be a success and recognizes their great importance for Korea. The opposition people say they'd like [political changes! before the Games, but they don't go so far as to say that they will ruin it all for their own political purposes. Korea will be around for a long time after 1988, and it will be great for the national legacy if the Olympics are a success."
IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch also was full of optimism last week when he talked to Verschoth: "I was there during the Asian Games last fall, and during those Games Korean security measures worked perfectly. I have great confidence that nothing will happen to our Olympic Games either."
Indeed, the Chun government last week took steps that seemed to indicate a welcome softening of its intransigence. First, President Chun responded to the scandal over the cover-up of the student's torture-killing. He asked for letters of resignation from all 26 members of his cabinet, then dumped his prime minister, deputy prime minister, the ministers of justice and home affairs and the director of the South Korean equivalent of the CIA. This was followed by the arrest of three senior police officers, all of whom were charged with masterminding the cover-up.
At almost the same time, reports spread that there was some kind of compromise in the offing between Chun's anointed replacement, Roh, and the RDP opposition. Roh is expected to be nominated as his party's presidential candidate at its June 10 convention. The consensus in Seoul is that Roh may try to come up with some mild reform in the election process that would not threaten his victory but would somehow prevent the RDP's boycott of the election, which will be held sometime this fall. At week's end, Roh and Kim Young Sam were both talking publicly about actually meeting face to face, which would be a first.
But if internal strife in South Korea hasn't produced a general sense of Olympic pessimism, the continuing threat of violence from the north is still very real. The unpredictable panjandrums of Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, have been playing odd games with the Olympics for some time now. They have been insisting that North Korea be allowed to host 50% of the Olympic events or face a possible boycott. The demand is unprecedented, but by agreement with Seoul Olympic officials, Samaranch offered the North Koreans a piece of the Olympics—table tennis, archery, soccer preliminaries and the 50-K bicycle race—for 1988. The North Koreans have refused the offer.
Through it all, Samaranch has been remarkably patient. But last week the North Koreans may have gone too far. A two-man delegation from the IOC was in Pyongyang to look at would-be Olympic venues. One condition the IOC set was that during the Olympics the North-South border be opened at Panmunjom to officials, journalists and competitors, and accordingly, Samaranch asked that the border be opened to his delegates as part of last week's IOC visit. After dangling the possibility that it would accede to the request, North Korea finally said no. Samaranch issued a statement saying he was "extremely disappointed." Discussions are expected to continue at an IOC meeting in mid-July in Lausanne, Switzerland, but last week's action by the North Koreans certainly made compromise more difficult.
Many South Koreans are unhappy that the IOC negotiations have reached such an impasse. Paik Naksuh, a special adviser to Chun's Democratic Justice Party, said last week, "Being Korean, you can say that I am 'desperately optimistic' about the IOC compromise. I don't like to think it's doomed. To have them [the North Koreans] come and have a unified Games, it's a dream come true."
If North Korea boycotts the Olympics, there is the threat of sabotage and terrorism—such as the bomb, believed by South Korean officials to be the handiwork of North Korean agents, that exploded at Seoul's Kimpo Airport just six days before the Asian Games last September, killing five and injuring more than 30. And what of the threat of a supporting boycott among North Korea's powerful Communist allies, including Eastern Europe and China? At this point, indications in Moscow and Peking are that if North Korea boycotts the Games, it may be on its own. In which case, says Paik, the North Koreans may have to eschew violence or risk being "not only enemies to the world, but also to their own best friends."
The Western diplomat who spoke to Sullivan put it this way: "The cards are certainly in South Korea's favor, because North Korea is less likely to do something with their allies aligning themselves with the Games. However, if North Korea tries something, I can't think of a country more alert, quicker to react and tougher than South Korea. I've heard the South Koreans mentioned in the same breath as Israel. If anyone's capable of assuring us a secure Olympics, it's Korea."