[NOTEBOOK]Gerontocrats Run the Post-Cold War Era

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[NOTEBOOK]Gerontocrats Run the Post-Cold War Era

Following National Assembly approval of a no-confidence motion against Unification Minister Lim Dong-won, Seoul has become entangled in a new debate.

On the surface, the controversy lies on whether or not to continue the "sunshine" policy of engagement with the communist North. But the key point is about the creation of a post-Cold War, post-division and "post-three Kims" system and reaction to it.

It seems the conflict, friction and discussion over inter-Korean exchanges and the engagement policy toward the North have been supplanted by a new topic of "redesigning the political arena."

The leading roles in the political redrawing are still played by the three Kims - Kim Dae-jong, Kim Jong-pil and Kim Young-sam - who have controlled past 50 years of Korea's modern political history through the Cold War era.

Now the argument, at the beginning of the 21st century and a new millennium and following the end of the Cold War, finds countries around the world taking the initiative in creating new leadership and reforming fundamentally their national structures. By contrast, the way the three gerontocrats are retooling politics is a page out of the Cold War era. They are adorning politics with such terms as "conservative" or "progressive" agendas. However, their behavior is based on exclusion, regionalism and cronyism in disregard for the new trend around the Korean Peninsula.

In some ways, the three Kims and their cronies seem to be having a showdown, after being reborn as extreme Cold War-style conservatives or progressives in a country where the Cold War has not yet ended. Whatever cause they uphold, it sounds like cajolery by politicians whose only aim is to grab power.

In the past, they were on both ends of the political spectrum of dictatorship and democracy. Now, they have simply changed their positions to the conservative and progressive.

A closer look at the shift would show that it is an anachronistic move, resulting from the illusion that the living domain, national capacity and changes in our fate occur only within the peninsula without any outside influence such as the changing trends of the world.

During the Cold War, hard-line leaders in the Soviet Union and the United States hoped their adversaries in the Kremlin or the White House would not die out. Although they were trying to defeat each other, they justified their existence with the enemy.

In Korea, too, there are political groups that claim hegemony in some regions of the country. They want the Cold War structure to remain intact so they can confront each other and justify their existence, because of the other.

Nevertheless, there is a silent majority in Korea longing for the end of the Cold War system. There is an increasing number of people disillusioned by the way Korea's power elite tries to use its influence to perpetuate such Cold War practice in every sector of the nation's politics, economy and society.

Some of them are leaving the country because they are disappointed by the gap with the universal trend, if not global standard, in the rest of the world and the way our society is preparing for the future.

However, just as viruses grow more resistant to antibiotics, Korea's Cold War-style conservatives and progressives are resisting the post-Cold War structure and trend, citing "obsolete socialism" and "neo-liberalism" - words that are not familiar to lay people.

Neither side reveals its true intentions very often, but Cold-War conservatives are so proud of their economic growth model during the Cold War that they are no fans of reform.

Progressives of that era do not like restructuring because they side with strong labor organizations as an opposing force against chaebol business conglomerates that grew during the Cold War.

If we are moving backward in the era of globalization, when other peoples are moving ahead, the gap with them will widen.

Every nation has a challenge to overcome during periods of transition. At the dawn of the 21st century, Korea's primary task to overcome are the remnants of Cold War system and the way of thinking of the political leadership.


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The writer is international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Kim Seok-hwan

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