[INSIGHT]Conflict and Democracy Are Inseparable

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[INSIGHT]Conflict and Democracy Are Inseparable

Some critics say that the patterns of conflict and confrontation all across the spectrum of our society resemble the political confusion which was rampant right after Korea was liberated from Japanese colonial rule in 1945.

Many people voice concerns that Korean society will be divided into two extremes.

One thing is certain: The recent pattern of conflict is a problem. The quality of debate is low because people refuse to recognize opinions that are different from theirs, and vulgar and abusive words are used to "support" their own opinions and denigrate those of others.

The cause of this trend is that Koreans are not skilled in confronting each other through logical debate. The trend also demonstrates how closed and standardized Korean society really is: it does not encompass a wide variety of opinions.

Conflict and confrontation are a necessary evil for democracy to take root. Confrontation and conflict among members of society is a major premise of a democratic society.

Most countries which boast of having a mature democratic system have gone through confrontations and conflicts that are similar to those now going on here in Korea.

It is reasonable to try to minimize the destructive effects of confrontation and conflict, but it is authoritarian to claim that criticism and raising issues only brew trouble. The view that all confrontations and conflicts are crises is also mistaken.

Even more harmful than trying to avoid all conflict is the intolerance that comes from looking at the world as black or white, right or wrong.

Some Koreans love labeling others as reformist or anti-reform, progressive or conservative, right-wing or left wing. It is a Cold War legacy that we tend to classify persons at one end of the scale or the other and then paint the opposite camp as extremists.

A wide spectrum of political opinions is urgently needed at this stage of our national development. In many mature democracies, middle-of-the-road political parties balancing left- and right-wing inclinations take turns sharing power.

But all these countries also went through periods when political parties were at each others' throats. In most countries as well, various minor parties compete against the major ones while struggling with each other to gain power.

Korean society is becoming so complex that it is difficult for a monochromatic political party to reflect all the demands and interests of its members. It seems to be natural, therefore, that Korea go through the multi-party political system at this stage.

This system may result in political instability for some time. But in the longer term, extreme political parties will be marginalized and moderate parties will increasingly take control.

Koreans had a wide ideological spectrum right after Korea was liberated from the colonial rule of Japan in 1945. But unlike the case in western countries, political parties with extremist views seized control and absorbed or eliminated those parties that had more moderate views.

Given that history, it is no wonder that Koreans are hesitant to see a return of a political system with many parties. But the political situation right after independence from Japanese rule did not result from the will of the Korean people. It resulted from the Cold War between the two superpowers.

The establishment of two governments with extreme characteristics on the Korean Peninsula is an exceptional case; the peninsula was a strategic point at which the United States and Soviet Union collided, with both determined not to lose influence in the brewing global strategic struggle.

There is a saying, "Inevitability is drilled through chance."

According to this proposition, it may have been by chance that the Constitutional Court ruled that proportional voting method in selecting National Assembly members is unconstitutional, but accepting the demand for change in the political system was historically inevitable.

Koreans can proceed further down the road to political maturity if they recognize the historical demands and implement measures to meet those demands.

This is an excellent chance to make changes. It is a good opportunity to get rid of parties consisting of politicians who constantly change factions to get closer to power or who seek shelter under the influence of money.

Koreans have already learned from experience that intolerance can lead to extremes which could result in mutual destruction and political chaos. That happened during the post-World War II liberation period.

Korea should now open an age in which all people freely express their opinions while respecting the different views that others hold and express.

We must succeed in opening an era in which debates based on logic flourish and the rights and freedom of others are respected as much as our own.


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

by Yu Seung-sam

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