[OUTLOOK]Politics in the 'Dae Han Min Guk'

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[OUTLOOK]Politics in the 'Dae Han Min Guk'

I went hiking over the weekend, and the red-shirted hikers all around were making the Bukhan Fortress resound to the cry: "Dae Han Min Guk!" The World Cup spirit lives on.

Indeed, it was a glorious event, like Christmas in that afterward people wondered wistfully, Why only one season? Why can't it be like this all the time?

That is a serious question to the thinkers at the Asiatic Research Center of Korea University, which organized a program last week to talk about "The World Cup and Korea's Future Governance." Four professors presented papers, and four foreigners were asked to respond to the papers. It was a most exhilarating afternoon and evening.

The animating idea for the conference was that in one World Cup month Korea had changed, changed for the better, perhaps changed permanently. The unforeseen successes of the soccer team and the event organizers catalyzed a new birth of Korean pride, unity and optimism. The question set for the professors, then, was how to preserve and build upon this spirit to secure a better future for all Koreans.

Im Hyug-baeg, of Korea University's Political Science Department, found impetuses in the World Cup for Korean unity, global dynamism, regional devolution, Asian development and inter-Korean reconciliation.

Most dramatically, Professor Im called for the replacement of the "Apollonian" politics of "standardization, hierarchical organization, rationalization and discipline" with a "Dionysian" politics inspired by the hundreds of thousands of Red Devil rooters who packed Korea's streets and squares chanting and cheering -- and then picked up their trash when they dispersed. Dionysian politics, he said, should be similar to a "sport festival," characterized by "festivity, spontaneity, openness and passion."

Seong Kyoung-ryung, a sociologist from Hallym University, was more skeptical. "Happy June, gloomy July," he said, noting that Korea's politics returned within days to pre-World Cup levels of aspersion and disenchantment. Perhaps not much has changed after all.

He also challenged Hiddink-olatry. Soccer coach Guus Hiddink was indeed a "high-performance leader," Professor Seong noted, and so was the dictator Park Chung-hee. But Korea is moving away from the politics of charismatic leaders -- unfortunately for the beleaguered Kim Dae-jung. The professor outlined a vision of shared and cooperative leadership emphasizing autonomy and consensus. The World Cup, he suggested, highlighted the inadequacy of Korean politics, but did not necessarily provide a model.

Yoon Sung-sig, of Korea University's Department of Public Administration, offered a blueprint for what he called "humble" government. This is not small or limited government, he made clear, for the government is responsible to all its people in all their circumstances. But government should not be the centralized, bureaucratic know-it-all.

"My wild ideas," Professor Yoon called his proposals. Is Korea ready for a balkanized federal state where power is devolved, as in Switzerland, to regional cantons? Is it ready for direct democracy by Internet voting and "electronic government?"

Finally, Park Myung-lim of Yonsei University's Graduate School of International Studies saw the World Cup as a new stage in the Korean "hermit kingdom's" encounter with the world. Korea always had to react to external pressure, he said; now for the first time, Korea was engaging with the world on its own terms -- and finding the experience thoroughly gratifying.

Professor Park suggested that "Janus-faced Korea" -- heretofore inwardly focused even when it turned outward to the world -- might be transformed by this "cultural fusion." The World Cup was a "moment of madness, when anything seemed possible." But he did not want to carry his optimism too far, noting that the heralded new civic spirit did not inspire Koreans to vote in the local elections that occurred on a day off in the soccer schedule.

There were still more stimulating ideas, but I wish to inject a note of caution about "Dionysian" politics. I, too, was inspired by the good-natured crowds. I even bought a Be the Reds shirt and a Korean flag to wave. But let's confine "moments of madness, when anything seems possible" to sports festivals. Hitler's rallies were the purest Dionysian politics. So was the French Revolu-tion -- more noble, no doubt, but also a time of bloodshed.

Dionysian politics has its uses: Dionysian Koreans toppled the dictators Syngman Rhee and Chun Doo Hwan. But Korea does not now face this kind of crisis. Let us make the bureaucrats less Appollonian, if we can, but let us, honoring Professor Yoon's vision of "humble government," be humble citizens.


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The writer is the editor of the JoongAng Ilbo English Edition.

by Hal Piper

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