[INSIGHT]Party's Young Voices Won't Leave Echo

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[INSIGHT]Party's Young Voices Won't Leave Echo

There's always one thing I find most difficult to explain to Americans concerning the political situation in Korea. Their question often is this: Now that Kim Dae-jung, who won the Nobel Peace Prize and risked his life for democracy, is the president, why is democracy still causing a tussle there? The Kim Dae-jung administration always responds that this is just a squabble caused by the conservatives, who acquired what they have during the military dictatorship and will not let go of their privileges. Other than that, democratization is well on its way, they say. But it seems that the current administration now needs a new answer, because even from inside the ruling party, criticism is swelling about the democratic nature of the administration - not to mention from outside the party.

The young, reform-minded group in the ruling Millennium Democratic Party have taken a roundabout approach, pointing to systematic and personnel management problems. But everybody knows what they really want to talk about is the ill-effects of one-man rule. From the point of view of the general public, it is not important which subgroup in the party is dominant. What they really want to know is whether this government can transform itself during the year and a half that it has left.

There is enough time for the administration to make up for the ups and downs of the past three and a half years, if it makes a sincere effort. But is the current administration capable of freshening up its mindset and committing itself to democratic government? Regret-tably, I am skeptical.

The reason for this can be found in our history of democratization. In Korea, the pro-democracy movement has not led to democratic government. Rather, those who fought for democracy showed an undemocratic attitude after taking office.

A good example is the former Kim Young-sam administration. Kim Dae-jung and Kim Young-sam were the prominent advocates for democracy, but within their own circles they have established a system of one-man leadership. Of course, their parties would have collapsed without such a system, as outside powers tried every means to destroy them. I was once told by one of former President Kim Young-sam's closest associates - whose name is withheld at his request - that from time to time, he felt tempted to leave Mr. Kim when he was an opposition leader, as he was tired of Mr. Kim's "egocentricity" and "self-righteousness," but he couldn't, for fear of being labeled a "traitor."

Paradoxically, Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung have became dogmatic and authoritative within their closed circles while on the outside they champion democracy. This is why democracy has not yet been established in Korea although the democratic diehards are in power. The realization of democracy comes from democratic thinking and actions, but our pro-democracy fighters maintain the thinking and actions they had during the days of the anti-dictatorship movement.

After Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung rose to power, controversy continued over how to reward their loyal "retainers," who were faithful even in life-and-death situations, but more often than not they are not fit to lead the country.

When it comes to the characteristics of the leadership style of the president, it is hard to expect them to change the habits of a lifetime. With this in mind, the voice of the young group in the ruling party seems unlikely to leave behind even an echo.

Will the efforts of the young group then end in vain? No. They should be credited with making the former pro-democracy activists realize that their actions have not spoken of democracy. Their efforts are also a declaration that the historical mission of the pro-democracy fighters is over. They also show us what kind of leadership we are looking forward to in our next administration, if we want a genuine democracy not of mere political slogan.


The writer is the Washington Bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Moon Chang-keuk

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