[OUTLOOK]Ideologues must show their flags

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[OUTLOOK]Ideologues must show their flags

These days, as I watch the "Roh Moo-hyun syndrome" that has swept the country, I have the feeling that the moment when ideology will become the major driving force of political parties in Korea is not too far away.

Until now, Koreans' voting patterns could be easily pegged by where they live; they vote for people who come from their region. But comparing to the past, the roles of ideology and social class have increased.

During the Cold War era and because Korea is divided into two ideologically confrontational states, words such as "left wing," "progressive," and "socialist" were prohibited. Under such circumstances, to have called itself a liberal political party would have been suicide for any group. The further away from those ideas the better ?that was the cold reality.

But now, the Roh Moo-hyun typhoon seems to suggest that Korean society, especially the younger generation, seems to be free from the ideological restraints of the past. There is freer political competition with democratization and the end of the Cold War. Might it be possible for a socialist political party to win an election and run the country?

Even without Cold War sentiment, campaigning as a left-wing political party is not easy, as can be seen from the experience of such political parties in Europe.

In the 1990s, European left-wing parties came to power in Britain, France, Italy and Germany and were strong in other Western European countries. At the time, those left-wing parties adopted an election strategy of downplaying old-fashioned romantic socialism; instead, they chose a middle ideology, embracing the concept of a capitalist free market economy.

Their strategy was based on practicality. That kind of approach for socialist parties is often called "the third way." Europe's left-wing parties capitalized on this strategy so well that there was some thinking that such an ideology would become the standard in European politics and endure forever.

But in this decade, the left wing began to lose power. In Spain, Italy, Denmark and Portugal, the ruling leftist parties vanished, and more recently, Lionel Jospin suffered a crushing defeat in France's presidential election. In Germany, in provincial elections at Sachsen-Anhalt, the socialist party also lost power. In Germany's general elections this September, the ruling socialist party is facing a nationwide defeat.

Europe's left wing is in a crisis. A practical approach a moderate socialist political platform is no longer good enough for the voters; there seems to be a feeling that the "third way" is just an attempt to hide the true colors of a political party. A party without color is easily drowned out in the noisy turmoil of political affairs. Why do voters dislike "pale" parties?

Today the harshest criticism is that left-wing parties have adopted middle-of-the-road policies that have robbed them of their roots as true socialists. In the end, the parties became nothing more than a gathering place for political opportunists. When a socialist party abandons socialism, there is little left to distinguish it from conservative parties, and the very reason why people threw their votes to them disappears.

One other factor that contributed to the downfall of the left wing is that voters were not fully convinced when the left-wing parties announced that they would embrace free-market economic principles. Voters never fully trusted the parties of the left, thinking that their acceptance of free markets was a tentative decision compared with the enthusiasm for markets of conservatives, who truly believe in every line of their ideological book.

At the end of the day, a socialist party cannot rely on a middle way if it hopes to prevail. The moment it chooses to move to the center, it loses its identity and becomes nothing more than a mass of contradictions.

Europe's experience tells us a lot. The liberal forces that opt for a moderate "middle way" will face the same fate as Europe's left-wing parties suffered. They will find themselves caught in a contradiction, and voters who doubt their ideological identity will turn their backs on them. I just hope that they realize before it is too late that they could lose a lot more political battles if they choose to stand for something that is contrary to their nature.


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The writer is the president of the Institute of Social Sciences.

by Kim Kyung-won

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