When Will We See Smiles on the Faces of Korean Politicians?

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When Will We See Smiles on the Faces of Korean Politicians?

Nelson Mandela, former South African president, has a wonderful smile. The sincerity of this smile has persisted despite his 27 years in jail - a truly remarkable testimony to his character.

The first thing Mandela did upon being inaugurated as the first black president to be elected by popular vote was to preach reconciliation and co-existence between the blacks and the whites. He also placed the utmost priority on discouraging any acts of revenge against the whites. He took a series of measures that recognized many of the vested rights of the white population, and pursued gradual reforms. Protests followed, from the extreme camps of both the blacks and whites, but armed with his bright smile he overwhelmed the objections, seemingly effortlessly. Certainly, South Africa still continues to suffer social conflict between the prosperous whites and the poor blacks. The country no longer rings with the sound of gunshots, however, as Mandela's policies of reconciliation slowly take root.

Korea's political parties wrangle over issues that are trivial by comparison to such fundamental problems as racial conflict. As they continue to engage in ever intensifying confrontation, nothing gets resolved. We can only deplore these politicians who continue to bicker endlessly over trifling issues, and we cannot help becoming envious of Mandela's generous smile.

Singapore's former prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, stated in the second volume of his memoirs that President Kim Dae-jung was a person upon whom crisis had left a lingering shadow of gloom. It seems that Lee perceived even the president's smile as gloomy. This is quite understandable when we look back on President Kim's previous struggle with all forms of adversity, from the countless threats of death, imprisonment, and asylum, to house arrest. We cannot help comparing his gloomy expression with Mandela's beguiling smile, however.

Grand National Party President Lee Hoi-chang is also a person of stern presence. He gives off a biting chilliness, even venom, when he denounces the government.

President Kim and the opposition leader Lee Hoi-chang are alike in that they both exude severity rather than warmth. The public therefore finds them quite unapproachable and remote. The two leaders are also logical, perfectionist and strict self-disciplinarians. They tend to be reluctant to admit to mistakes, and the people around them say that they are both unreceptive to constructive criticism.

The two perfection-prone leaders are also incompatible, which naturally leads to friction. Lee warns President Kim that, "All that remains after reconciliation is deception and betrayal." President Kim says that Lee fails to keep his promises. The conflicts between the two leaders are transferred to their followers, leading to further exchanges of bitter words. Both camps demand the other's withdrawal from politics. Added to the political feud is regionalism, turning the strife even sourer.

Korea's political landscape is filled with the noise produced by the clashes between the two perfectionist leaders. The clamor is likely to continue as long as the two leaders retain their gloom and spite.

It is said that a person's face is a mirror of his heart. Mandela's generous smile is a reflection of his magnanimous heart and the spirit of great tolerance that allowed him to reconcile even with his past tormentors. I wish to see such a warm smile, without any trace of darkness, from Korea's political leaders.

by Huh Nam-jin

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