From the Prize, Political Changes?

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From the Prize, Political Changes?

The Nobel Peace Prize is a great honor that endows its recipients with a great sense of purpose. The nation and the people should feel proud that President Kim Dae-jung received the world''s most prestigious award for promoting peace, democracy and human rights - values that are now being embraced by much of the world.

The Korean people are benefiting from the prize already. One example is the disbanding of the special police unit under the direct command of the presidential office. It is not known whether Mr. Kim''s directive in this matter was influenced by his winning the prize, but many now credit the award, bequeathed by the late Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, with influencing the decision to abolish the special investigation team, a remnant of past military dictatorships that was accused of cracking down on political opponents of the ruling party. Mr. Kim also halted a plan to build a park to commemorate his winning the prize. We now look forward to seeing the substantial amount of money being put towards that project redirected to more meaningful and beneficial projects.

The beneficial "ripple effect" of the Nobel will likely be felt in various areas in the future, and many people already take this for granted. This Nobel Peace Prize is an honor that carries with it an expectation that the recipient will act in the spirit for which the prize was accorded. This may prove burdensome for Mr. Kim. For instance, people will now ask how the parliament can railroad bills and the police resort to illegal wiretapping with a Nobelist in the Blue House. The effects of the Nobel Prize are indeed great if the sense of responsibility it confers on its recipients can help deter such illegal and heavy-handed practices.

Hence, Mr. Kim would be wise to devise measures to continue to share the pleasure and benefits of the prize with the people. As one of the first steps, the president should discourage Kyonggi Province Education Office''s plan to hang placards hailing his accomplishment. The congratulatory full-page newspaper ads should also be discontinued. As it is, Koreans have tendency to go overboard when a national figure, be it an athlete or a president, achieves international acclaim.

The people under the president try to demonstrate their loyalty by finding fault and cracking down on what might be perceived as an affront to their leader. Although such acts reflect badly on the president, we have seen many people being rewarded for behaving like sycophants. To such people, Mr. Kim''s stature as a Nobelist is seen as a heaven-sent opportunity for flattery and adulation. Mr. Kim, who has thus far exhibited the modesty befitting a prize winner, should not let such adoration go to his head.

Some people also worry that the prize might lessen constructive criticism of the president. Mr. Kim is so knowledgeable and analytical that it is said very few people can best him in a debate. Now that he has been accorded the Nobel, he could be easily perceived as someone far above the masses.

It had been difficult to give the president any sort of critical advice before the prize. It is therefore necessary that in the post-prize period the president ensure that an atmosphere exists where opinions and criticisms can be raised.

Mr. Kim was accorded the Nobel Peace Prize in part for his North Korea policy. The entire world congratulated the president, but North Korea remained conspicuously silent. Mr. Kim was being magnanimous when he said that he feels sorry that the North''s leader did not share the prize, but also thankful for his help. But not a word has come out of the North.

We don''t know what the North is thinking, but it has not offered any official or public congratulations. Perhaps North Korea believes Kim Jong-il should have been given part of the credit for the peace efforts, since they would have been impossible without his cooperation. Kim Jong-il might even believe that the peace process on the Korean peninsula is entirely in his hands. Some in the foreign press took note of the North''s silence and reported that the South is anxious.

Many South Koreans believe the government is literally pouring aid into the North, and their anxiety over the North''s silence may increase if the feelings surrounding the award have an effect on North Korea policies.

It is important to find equilibrium in our North Korea policies, keeping in mind that the prize is given to those pursuing "genuine peace." North Korea should acknowledge and share the delight of president''s accomplishment with a large gesture that would relieve some of the reservations the outside world has about the North. Its continued silence on the matter could be mistaken for intolerance. Such an act of diplomacy would prolong the positive effects that have come in the aftermath of the first Korean Nobelist, and make those who had objected to President Kim''s winning share in our delight.

The writer is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Song Jin-hyuk

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