Lessons from Former Dictator’s Carping

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Lessons from Former Dictator’s Carping

Chun Doo-hwan was the president of the Fifth Republic, the military dictatorship of the 1980s, and the author of a particularly shameful period of Korea's history. Under his repressive rule, many people suffered and democracy took a step backward. Now this suppressor of democracy has rhetorically asked whether we are currently living in a democracy, thus thumbing his nose at Korea's former democracy fighters, who used to shout the slogan, "Down with the military dictatorship!"

Our first reaction is to ask how a man who is so obviously a criminal in the eyes of history dare say such a thing. At the same time though, we are ashamed of the reality of our political scene, that has degenerated so far that it deserves the mockery of a former dictator. Politicians must wake up and do a lot of thinking about how this fiasco has come about.

When Suh Young-hoon, head of the Millennium Democratic Party (MDP), paid a visit to Former President Chun, he reportedly said, "President Kim Dae-jung and Former President Kim Young-sam were lifelong democracy fighters, and I expected them to demonstrate what democracy is all about. They are no different, though. They have not taken one step forward."

Let us not discuss here whether Chun is entitled to make the kind of comments he made. It goes without saying that since his days in power democratization has spread to many fields of Korean society--human rights, freedom of speech, and politics. However, we feel a sense of disgrace to hear Chun's words because the current political scene is not completely innocent of the accusations contained in his taunt. Many people, fed up with lowbrow political practices and the all-or-nothing confrontation between the ruling party and the opposition, are feeling at a loss for words on hearing Chun's quip.

Lately politics has backpedaled further. The symbols of the shameful old practices-the railroading of bills and street rallies by politicians--have been resurrected, and there seems to be no possibility of resolving the emotional confrontation between the ruling party and the opposition. The National Assembly is in a regular session, but its floor is all but vacant. Dialogue and compromise disappeared from the political scene a long time ago. The ruling MDP, whose primary responsibility it is to get Korean politics back on track, is intent on augmenting its power by joining forces with the United Liberal Democrats. In turn, the Grand National Party (GNP), the largest party on the floor, has decided to take to the streets in a show of muscle, rather than offer new visions or show any flexibility. The current picture is a long way from what people had in mind when they fought for democracy.

Many people point out that the lamentable state of politics in Korea is largely due to the inflexibility and authoritarian behavior of the two main parties' respective leaderships. In this context, President Kim Dae-jung and GNP President Lee Hoi-chang should come forward to reconcile with each other first in a bid to return to normal politics. Both leaders must take simultaneous measures to change the atmosphere of their parties, so that opinions can be freely exchanged in a more democratic climate. If Chun's taunt can teach us anything it is that now is the time to start practicing real democracy.

by Joseph Chong

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