The Meaning of Freedom

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The Meaning of Freedom

A strange thing happened in Washington a little while ago. The New China Press contracted office space for its Washington bureau in Crystal City, but the contract was discarded. The Pentagon objected it because the office overlooks the Pentagon complex.

In a country where the freedom of the press gets utmost respect, it is indeed odd that a government office would interfere with the location of a media organization. But the U.S. government regards the New China Press not as a media organization, but as a governmental organization of China.

I saw a picture a few weeks ago of South Korean media heads having lunch with North Korean media people at the top of Mt. Paekdu. I also heard that they reached several agreements.

The visiting South Koreans must have assumed that their North Korean counterparts are media people, just like them. Otherwise they wouldn't have hiked the mountain together or have reached any agreements. They should be aware, however, that titles like 'newspaper' or 'broadcasting service' do not guarantee the integrity or freedom of the media. Whether the North Korean media is a free press or a propaganda machine hasn't been determined.

Media based on reality exists only when there is freedom of the press. There are many reasons to suspect North Korea's media to be a government propaganda agency, just like the New China Press. Therefore, the visit of the South's media to North Korea served the North by elevating its media credibility.

When President Kim Dae-jung visited Pyongyang in June, South Korean broadcasting services emphasized the warm welcome he received, based on the large crowd gathered to greet him. Several days later, when Russian President Vladimir Putin was in Pyongyang, they reported that his welcome was lukewarm because the receiving crowd was rather small.

In the absence of freedom, the size of a crowd does not mean anything but the decision of the person who mobilizes it. Only when each person comes out of free will does the size of the crowd bear any meaning. As far as I know, this was not the case in Pyongyang.

Kim Jong-il's suggestion that "the combination of the South's economy and technology with the North's spiritual strength will make Korea a great power," sounds plausible. The South certainly has the material strength while the North seems to have spiritual strength, given that the people continue to endure poverty and starvation. But on second thought, can the spirit and the material be separated? Isn't the South's economy the result of the people's individual creativeness and daring spirit stimulated by the free market principle? Doesn't that reflect a spiritual strength of its own?

I dare say that the poor shape of the North's economy is the result of the communist denial of people's economic freedom. I find more spiritual strength, therefore, in the capitalist respect of the individual freedom than in communism, totalitarianism, or any other system that oppresses its people. Some people understand that the 'spirit' refers to nationalism. But seriously, what is meant by national spirit when the free will of the people is denied?

The scenes of family reunions were deeply moving. But at times, I felt as though I was watching a play. Those were times when I was unsure whether the people were there of their volition. They weren't allowed to move about and interacted only with those arranged by the government. Without freedom, the reunions will never reflect true reality, no matter how many of them take place.

The dike between the two Koreas is giving way and we are rushed into a flood of play and reality mixed together. It concerns me that the majority of our society is either unwilling or unable to understand the distinction. There is a sure way to tell them apart. Gestures without free will cannot be the reflection of reality.

by Moon Chang-kuk

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