Lonely Fight for PrinciplesI attended a unique meeting at the end of last year. Comprising prominent individuals of our society, the meeting is a forum of discussion for those who quietly put their principles into practice. The meeting starts out from the belief that the leadership has to change first in order to put our society on the right track and to be free of corruption.
Its first action plan is to find genuine leaders. It searches for true leaders who are silently living up to their principles in various parts of society and doing their best as they continue with a lonely yet righteous struggle. The meeting tries to support their activities to help them become central figures of society.
The meeting has already found two such leaders: Kim Heung-sik, chief administrator of Jangseong-gun Office in South Cholla Province, and Sim Jae-duk, mayor of Suwon. Mr. Kim succeeded in reforming the way of thinking of county employees by educating them in a training program called Jangseong Academy, which was held at least 220 times. Aside from his efforts to change the mentality of local government employees, Mr. Kim also won recognition for achieving brilliant results in implementing reforms, increasing county income and transforming Jangseong into one of the best provincial districts in which to live.
Mayor Sim''s achievement lies in promoting changes in the public restroom culture by overhauling public restrooms in Suwon in preparation for the 2002 World Cup soccer games. After choosing these two leaders, the meeting awarded them a plate inscribed with "We are with you."
I believe this plate has great significance. Instead of ending as a one-time award ceremony, it signifies that we share the recipients'' convictions and encourage their activities, but also keep watch on their future actions.
Why is Korean society in such confusion and why is the economy failing to overcome its difficulties? I believe it is the result of a crisis that originates from the failure of most leaders in every part of society to perform their role properly.
The slogans that news media came up with as their New Year''s campaigns are mostly related to strengthening fundamentals and consolidating the basics. The slogans are tacitly based on the premise that social confusions stem from leaders'' failure to observe principles and fundamentals. Political leaders talk about and call for principles but in reality they take actions that breach faith and principles. They proclaim the importance of restructuring but they devise policies that go against the principles of restructuring. Naturally, distrust in politics and policies keeps rising.
The ruling Millennium Democratic Party members talk about observing the law and principles and adopting democratic procedures and processes, but they think nothing of "lending" their lawmakers to a former coalition partner, the United Liberal Democrats, in total defiance of the law, principles, procedures and processes, for the goal of re-establishing a political alliance. Political leaders'' glaring lack of principles is causing political confusion to lead to economic crisis and distrust in the leaders to spread and destabilize society.
Amid such confusion, I find one ray of hope in ULD Rep. Kang Chang-hee, who is defying an ultimatum to accept the defection of three ruling party lawmakers to the ULD, which would have allowed it to have enough parliamentary seats to become a negotiation body. He alone is standing his ground in refusing to take part in such practices that defy the fundamentals and principles of partisan politics. He alone is maintaining principles in a chaotic scene where every political leader thinks it is OK to ignore principles to achieve their goals.
I don''t know whether his faith in principles will change in the future, but I would like to think that his current attitude represents a sign of changes in our political climate. I want to give a "We are with you" plate to Rep. Kang. I want to promote his spirit of abiding by fundamentals and principles. I want to keep an eye on his activities and also support them.
Fundamentals will have a place in society and genuine political democratization will be achieved only when the leaders of politics, companies and organizations who ignore principles in pursuit of their interests are spurred to reflect on their actions by watching Rep. Kang''s lonely fight.
In its Dec. 27 issue last year, the Los Angeles Times carried this commentary under the title "''Lame Duck'' Syndrome Hinders S. Korea": "Kim Dae-jung believes in democracy but is not himself a democrat. He continues to lead in an autocratic way. Korea remains under the rule of the rulers, not the rule of law. To be fair, the country''s structure makes the president a kind of elected autocrat."
If we are to prove a foreign newspaper''s perception wrong and establish democratic politics in Korea, leaders in all parts of society have to create a climate of attaching importance to principles and fundamentals during the remaining term of the administration. This is why we should keep an eye on Rep. Kang Chang-hee.