[OUTLOOK]Nostalgia No Substitute for LeadershipSome time ago, future- oriented science fiction movies were very popular in Korea, but recently we seem to be crazy about the good old days. The movie, "Friends," set in the 1970s and 1980s, is breaking records. Eun Hui-kyeong's new novel, "Minor League" is also selling well; it concerns four men who were born in the Year of the Dog (1958). Sixties-style miniskirts seem to be popular again.
When our economy looked booming, we anticipated the future, but with the economy in the doldrums, people may yearn for what they remember as the good times of the past. Right after the foreign currency crisis, retrospective soap operas and TV commercials exploded in popularity. The trend died as the economy recovered but is now back again, confirming that we are again in an economic trough.
Everyone has a tendency to think the past beautiful. If we don't have memories, how can we cope with our present dry lives? The harder the life is, the more we seem to want to avoid reality by being buried in the glorious past.
Even politicians are busy trying to take advantage of the past. Some are toiling to build a memorial to former President Park Chung Hee; there is talk of a new coalition of old democracy fighters and some former presidents frequently appear in the media.
I do not blame potential presidential candidates for visiting former presidents; they still have a following. But I would hope presidential hopefuls could visit former leaders without making such a fuss if their intent is really to seek advice from a veteran's success or failure during their incumbency. It puzzles me what politicians want to gain by showing the same, tired old faces on television to people who are already exhausted from a hard day's work.
The potential candidates cast amorous glances at self-proclaimed "kingmakers" in their respective parties. But after being turned down by the kingmakers, some try to comfort themselves by muttering that the kingmakers will have little influence on the next presidential election. That is not a pleasant picture either.
The potential candidates irritate me because I see no hope from them for our future, and I am disappointed that they all seem to be depending on exploiting regional differences in Korea to get into office. They should be fighting against regionalism, not encouraging it.
If there is one future-oriented issue put forward by potential candidates, it is the revision of the constitution. There are many good points in a system of two four-year terms for a president. If the proposed revision of the constitution added new strengths to the present constitution's strong points, no one would oppose the revision. But if we lose one thing to get another, we should ask for whom the revision was made. I believe a vice presidency would not help mitigate the lamentable regionalism in Korea, but make it more chronic.
We have to address regionalism not by a national politics dominated by regional coalitions but by expanding local autonomy. We should guarantee more regional autonomy to lessen the disparities between Seoul and the rest of the country, which are demonstrably greater than the differences between Kyongsang and Cholla.
But the biggest problem of the proposed constitutional revisions are that they would disguise the real reasons for the current political crisis. They would forgive the party bosses who are responsible for the failure of our politics by removing the responsibility for the failure from their shoulders and putting it in the constitution.
I am concerned with the idea of a new coalition of those who worked together for Korean democracy even though I have some hopes for it as well. The failures of former President Kim Young-sam and President Kim Dae-jung mainly stem from the fact that they were elected with the help of conservative forces after splitting their own alliance. If they want to get together now, they should first reflect on why that split happened.
One reason for their failure to reform the country is the moral arrogance that made them try to ram their reform policies down the people's throat. Moral motives in politics do not necessarily lead to good results. The ideals of East Bloc socialists were not morally wrong, but the people of Eastern Europe suffered greatly from attempts to put those ideals into practice.
Our democracy fighters lacked the ability to manage complicated state affairs. If they want to make us believe that they are now professionally competent and overcome the label of retrospective politics of black and white, they should put forth their plans for governing in the 21st century.
We can no more go back in time than we can crawl back into the womb. The harder is reality, the more we have to look ahead. If a person is dreaming of becoming the leader of this country, he should start by finding out what the people's dreams are and offer concrete and scientific policies to make those dreams come true.
Throw away the political tactics of the old days; give us a vision for the future.
The writer is a professor at Graduate School of international Studies of Ewha Womans University.
by Cho Ki-suk