[VIEWPOINT]Still Hobbled by Our Cold War Thinking

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[VIEWPOINT]Still Hobbled by Our Cold War Thinking

All nations have historical turning points; times in which their fate is in their hands. Korean society has an important task - to overcome the heritage of the cold war era. There are huge gaps between our cold war-like customs and global standards, and the gap makes our survival difficult.

During recent months, the political and social situation of this country is too much like a cold war. The situation is defined simply by some as a confrontation between left and right, although to put it more precisely, it is a confrontation between cold war-like conservatives and cold war-like liberals. That is a far cry from trends elsewhere in the world, so we have some serious problems.

In Korean society, the cold-warrior conservatives and progressives are two sides of the same coin. Though they confront each other, they depend on each other. Both sides want the structure of confrontation - the cold war structure - to continue, so their interests are in perfect harmony.

As a result, they ultimately oppose any change in the areas both of economic reform and North-South relations. In this vortex, the voices of the majority in our society have been buried.

In economic and social policies, cold-warrior conservatives are nostalgic for the development model of President Park Chung Hee. Though they hide their preferences from the public, they stick to the models that were successful in the past, and thus they dislike so-called "reform." The cold-warrior progressives, who support strong labor unions as counterweight against the powerful Korean conglomerates, also dislike restructuring which causes unemployment So the conservatives attack attempts at economic reform as "socialism," and the progressives attack it in the name of "neo-liberalism." Although both sides have drawn up battle lines, they cooperate tacitly to support the status quo. The reform policies of the Kim administration have been shaken by the outcry from those cold war powers.

But if the cold-warrior progressives stumble over an idealism that denies global standards or the trend of globalization itself, conservatives can not recognize that "Korean-style capitalism" based on the Park Chung Hee model does have a lot in common with the mobilization style of socialism; about the only difference is that the mobilized capital and massive concentration of resources is in private hands rather than directly in the government's. Then followed bribery and a foreign exchange crisis. Finally, the process of overcoming the crisis is essentially the same as the problem of "soft budget constraints" that Janos Kornai, a specialist on socialism, described: there are few incentives to stop pouring in more money..

Similar issues come up in North-South relations. Progres-sives spout surreal slogans like, "Let us inherit the spirit of Mangyoungdae - the birth place of Kim Il-sung." Conservatives who just as surreally prefer the status quo used leftist slogans to attack the unification minister and instigated the breakup of the coalition between the Millennium Democrats and the United Liberal Democrats. It is as if there were a coalition between conservatives and progressives to prevent any post-cold war breakthrough in North-South politics.

Why are voices of moderates buried and changes in North-South relations blocked by this coalition, a cold-war remnant? The current administration, which has been lazy about political reform, has to take a lot of the responsibility.

If it decided to pursue reform vigorously and over expected strong objections, it should have pursued reforms that would have given the reform-minded middle class more of a voice in politics. It should have changed the system and customs for reform-oriented persons who have no money or regional power bases to enter political society easily. The ruling party should have taken decisive measures ahead of the general elections last year. But it did not do so, and its inaction has boomeranged.

The economy and North-South policy must be reformed, but such reforms are very difficult unless they are preceded by political reform. Our biggest task is to escape the straitjacket of our cold war mentality and find the "third way" of solving problems.


The writer is a professor of political science at Seoul National University.

by Yoon Young-kwan

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