[OUTLOOK]Personal ties and compromises

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[OUTLOOK]Personal ties and compromises

Elections have been held amid the emotion and excitement of the World Cup. The whole nation seems to have been concentrating on nothing but soccer this month, but the elections went on as scheduled. All the other homework that we've pushed aside during the World Cup will sooner or later come back to us as well. In particular, preparations for the presidential election will start in earnest after the World Cup, and another kind of fever will sweep our country. But that fever will be a different kind than that which we felt during the World Cup, and it might bring distrust and strife. It is time to talk about social reintegration and harmony.

The biggest task of the civilian governments that emerged after a long history of military dictatorship was the integration of our society. As shown vividly in the late 1980s, a perfectly ordered society under the military governments had hidden seeds of intense conflict and discord. The task of the civilian governments was to bring balance and integration, not a forced standardization, to society through change and reform. Even 10 years after a civilian administration took over, however, we still have distrust and misunderstanding between groups because of regionalism. There are several reasons for that, but I would like to point out two in particular in relation to the presidential election.

The first factor stems from how our first two civilian presidents, Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung, were elected. Both had to compromise part of what they had believed in and fought for their entire lives in order to become president. In that compromise, they lost the resilience needed for social integration.

Kim Young-sam broke away from his fellow democracy fighter Kim Dae-jung to compromise with the military government. This further estranged the Jeolla region in the southwest, which had been the biggest victim of regionalism. As a result, the creases of regionalism and social tension grew deeper, and Mr. Kim as president saw his reform program fail, partly because of Kim Dae-jung's opposition.

Kim Dae-jung also had to shake hands with Kim Jong-pil, a staunch conservative, deserting his liberal stance and completely separated from Kim Young-sam in order to become president. Confusion and struggle followed the awkward coalition and the new administration also was unable to push through reforms.

Understandably, there was a certain inevitability in the choices the two presidents made. But a keen disappointment still remains; the two men delayed democracy and urgently needed social integration after they failed to form a partnership in the 1987 presidential election because of their rivalry and obsession to become president.

Compromise is necessary in politics, but even compromises must have limits. While it is important to win over the majority in a democracy, one should not compromise one's fundamental political beliefs or integrity. One should not compromise if he knows that compromise would bring social strife.

Numerous political realignments are expected because of this election. Voters should scrutinize what is being thrown away or gained by candidates in their compromises. We should be on our guard against candidates who would compromise with anyone on anything to become president. Those candidates might seem all-embracing and tolerant, but their nomination would mean still more delay in social integration.

The second factor we must pay attention to in our pursuit of social integration is the role of intellectuals. Our politics seem to be spreading tension and disunity in society rather than promoting a solution for those problems. In this situation, it is vital that intellectuals take an active role in filling in the gaps left by politics. Many intellectuals are limiting themselves to merely lamenting and criticizing the immaturity of politicians. There are too many intellectuals who have supposedly received the best education in our society and who, preaching social harmony, rely on regional ties and school ties themselves.

The most lamentable thing of all is that most of these intellectuals refuse to go through the trouble of re-establishing their positions in line with the emergence of civilian government and cling to their unconditional opposition to all administrations.

Such an attitude by the intellectual classes in society has seriously undermined the foundation of the civilian governments and their reform efforts, and has caused those governments to flounder in their attempts to distinguish themselves from their military predecessors.

It is the responsibility of intellectuals to society to make sure that no particular region or school stands out prominently in the presidential election this year -- that would just perpetuate social enmity and distrust.


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The writer is CEO of the Korean Enterprise Institute.

by Lee Yoon-jae

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