[VIEWPOINT]Holding Grudges Hinders a Democracy

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[VIEWPOINT]Holding Grudges Hinders a Democracy

After observing the way President Kim Dae-jung shuffled his party, the Blue House and cabinet lineups as well as the aftermath of the reshuffle, Koreans on the street began asking whether this administration would be able to carry on for the remaining year and a half.

How has the situation deteriorated to this level? Many people have pointed to the governing Millennium Democratic Party's minority stance in the National Assembly as the primary reason for the chronic instability. While that is a reasonable argument, it is not a sufficient one from the perspective of comparative politics.

I personally believe the political collapse has more to do with the Korean leaders' internal psychological problems that go against the reality that strives toward democratic principles.

If the current political debacle resulted from holding grudges and carrying hatred that are part of the psyche of certain political leaders and that has driven the Korean-style democracy thus far, it is a problem that cannot be overlooked.

Korean politicians like any other ones have entered the political arena through the "displacement and rationalization of private motives" of which the political scientist Harold Lasswell spoke. As such, the motives and justifications for their course of activities are likely to be variegated.

But what is clear is that politicians currently in power boast of their credentials, by posing as pro-democracy activists and saying that their desire remains to protect democracy without exception.

Studies also indicate that the civil society in Korea has grown significantly and that South Korea's political culture has advanced to match that of other developed countries. Consequently, I see no fundamental obstacle to bringing about a stable democracy in Korea.

It is possible to conjecture therefore that the reason why Korean politics has plunged into an abyss and is unstable at this time is because of the cultural and psychological backgrounds of our politicians.

Lately, in many countries moving toward democracy, pro-democracy activists are increasingly taking power. Despite all kinds of repression and suffering, they had wagered everything on the attainment of democracy in their countries.

But for them, democracy was an idealistic anti-thesis to dictatorship and not their everyday lives. Their everyday thoughts and activities had more to do with secrecy and a ring-like behavior and dichotomy between good and evil that sprang from holding grudges and carrying hatred.

Holding grudges and carrying hatred in return resulted from structural violence they suffered on personal, regional and group basis.

When they finally take power, so many of the pro-democracy activists find themselves unable to adjust to multilateral democratic politics that requires generosity and compromise. Domestic politics in Eastern Europe and South America that are constantly mired in the conflict between the elite and different societal groups is proof of the fact.

In contrast, the South African president Nelson Mandela received the Nobel Peace Prize and is praised for his efforts precisely because he abandoned holding grudges and carrying hatred.

The Kim Dae-jung administration, ever since inauguration, has continuously exhibited an "offensive attitude" in the course of implementing major policies as "second founding of the nation," reform policies and the engagement policy toward North Korea. The problem is one of "integration crisis" that results from the failure to go through a democratic political process in its policy implementation.

Even if there were strategic motives on the part of the opposition parties, the governing party should not abandon its responsibility to safeguard persuasion and compromise that are essential for democratic politics.

The result was the surge of a heated political debate on how to save the "identity of the nation." It also caused the collapse of the governing coalition between the Millennium Democratic Party and the United Liberal Democrats. Furthermore, it also worked to deteriorate confidence in President Kim's North Korea policy here and abroad.

In Korean folk custom, there are many ways to remove a grudge. They include the fine art of reconciliation and compromise. If the problem of our generation was the politics of grudge and hatred, we probably should have gone through the process of relieving it.

Frankly speaking, most of the people in the current opposition have benefited from the non-democratic rule of the past. They now call for the safeguarding of democracy in Korea.

The current opposition could provide a venue for settling matters for the benefit of democracy and the nation.

However, it remains unclear whether the politics of holding grudges and carrying hatred by the governing party will ever cease.


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The writer is a professor of international relations at Chung Ang University.


by Kim Dong-sung

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