Ma must now walk his '228' talk

The promises made by President Ma Ying-jeou during the annual commemorations associated with the anniversary of the Feb. 28 Incident of 1947 over the weekend, including a vow to launch a thorough investigation of the reasons for the massacre of over 10,000 Taiwanese by troops of the Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) government, are welcome but the sincerity of his commitment to defending Taiwan's democracy and realizing "truth and reconciliation" in our society will require more action than words.
Besides showing toleration in the face of a silent reception by relatives of "228" victims and vocal jeering by pro-independence protesters, Ma's addresses in the central commemoration in Kaohsiung City and a Taipei City sponsored event in at the 228 Memorial reflected the president's visible efforts to learn Hoklo (or Taiwanese) and to deepen his understanding of Taiwan history and to build personal bridges with "228" victim family members.
But such symbolic efforts are not sufficient for Ma to fulfill his responsibilities as the elected president of a new democracy and as the inheritor of the KMT's authoritarian political legacy to address the complex and intractable problems and dilemmas represented by the phrases "228" or "white terror."
Far more critical than such welcome but symbolic gestures will be concrete and convincing actions that demonstrate a firm resolution on the part of the restored KMT government not to return to its past authoritarian ways.
If Ma is sincere in his vow "to ensure that this kind of tragedy never again happens in our Taiwan," the president should instruct the KMT Cabinet to suspend plans to change the name of the Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall back to its original "Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall."
The decision by the KMT-controlled Legislature to reverse the name change made by the former Democratic Progressive Party government was purely an act of political revenge will instead inflict grievous harm on the process of reconciliation within Taiwan society and on Taiwan's external image with a public affirmation of the persons and ideology which produced "228."
Allowing the restoration of Chiang's temple will whitewash the late dictator's undeniable political responsibility for the "228 Massacre" and "upfront and personal" and thoroughly documented culpability for thousands of state murders during the "white terror" of the KMT martial law period and is therefore an unmistakable insult to all "228" and "white terror" victims.
Ma will send a signal to his own party, to Taiwan citizens and the international community regarding the nature of his commitment to democracy by either supporting the resurrection of the official Chiang cult or by calling for a deliberative citizen based process to decide the name but more importantly the content and function of the memorial.
We also urge Ma to refrain from holding a massive state-funded "celebration" of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Chiang's autocratic son Ching-kuo in March 2010. More valuable would be forums to review his complex nature, including his dual identity as the key architect of the "white terror" and as an autocratic leader who lifted martial law in July 1987 due to his wise realization that tide of liberalism in Taiwan was unstoppable.
Second, the president must ensure the realization of his support Saturday for the KMT-controlled Legislative Yuan to unfreeze the annual NT$300 million annual budget for the 228 Memorial Foundation and approve the long-boycotted statute to set up a National 228 Memorial Museum.
It was unsettling to hear Ma use the term "request" (baituo), a phrase commonly used by politicians when "requesting the favor of your vote," instead of instructing his party's legislative caucus to cease its vindictive boycott of the foundation for noting (as Ma himself has admitted) that Chiang was the person most responsible for the "228" massacre.
We also hope that Ma can resist pressure from extremists in his own camp to stack the new board of the foundation with new directors who would whitewash the culpability of Chiang and the KMT for this brutal act of state violence, reduce "228" into a past historical incident that is best de-politicized in the interests of "saving the economy" or mistakenly seen as merely the extension into Taiwan of the Chinese civil war between the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party.
The president's proposal to set up a task force to find the truth (or truths) of Feb. 28 Incident is also commendable, but the fundamental issues concern the intended purpose, the composition, process and legal status of a commission, which, in our view, should follow more in the path of South Africa's "truth and reconciliation" commission instead of being a presidential task force.
The most critical precondition for a "truth and reconciliation" process remains the willingness of the KMT itself and its leadership to cooperate fully and Ma can begin showing this commitment by "requesting" KMT Chairman Wu Po-hsiung release the KMT's internal files on the "228" and "white terror" periods.
Needless to say, the results will show the Taiwan people just how sincerely committed President Ma is to the preservation and deepening of Taiwan's democracy.