[OUTLOOK]A real or tactical change of heartThe president has changed. In fact, it is unbelievable how much he has changed. The man who used to say that he found nothing wrong with being anti-American is now declaring that he could have “ended up as a political prisoner had it not been for the United States.” Not much has changed since the start of the Roh Moo-hyun government, yet the president’s words have changed dramatically; obviously, his perspective has changed.
Why has it changed? President Roh met with newspaper editorial writers shortly before his visit to Washington. He said, “I have a habit of using self-depreciatory and cynical expressions. It’s a habit I picked up when I walked on the fringes of society.” He also said he would “act appropriately as a president who represented both the mainstream and the fringes of society.” He was probably referring specifically to the fact that his opinions about the United States as the president could not be the same as the opinion he had when he was an outsider.
Our society has been more or less divided into “mainstream” and “non-mainstream” with different world views, perceptions and cultures. For the last 50 years, the mainstreamers were preoccupied with how to become a wealthy nation, a strong nation and a more democratic and advanced country. The “non-mainstreamers” concentrated on criticizing the social and political problems that surfaced in the process of that development.
After the Kim Dae-jung administration was inaugurated, the traditional mainstreamers started to decline and finally gave way to the non-mainstreamers when Mr. Roh became president.
These two groups differ in the way they view the world. In short, the mainstreamers are pro-American and the non-mainstreamers are not. The mainstreamers thought that if we belonged to the American team, we could have our security guaranteed and gain economic benefits. The non-mainstreamers, on the other hand, saw the United States as an imperialistic power and that all evil and corruption in the country was the product of illicit collusion between the mainstream leaders and the United States.
President Roh’s anti-American flavor in his presidential election campaign came from such a background. If society is so divided in how it views the United States, then which side should it ultimately stand on for its own good? Russia, by joining the war on terrorism, is definitely on the United States’ side. Japan also joined the league by supporting the war in Iraq. Does that mean these two countries are weaker and more dependent than we are? Indeed not. These two countries know how the world moves. President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi know that they must stand on the side of the winner of history for the good of their countries. Even with all the points of disagreement, even when it is perhaps not in line with the national sentiment, it is the duty of those in charge of leading the country to make the right decisions for the security and prosperity of the country. A healthy mainstream supports this.
But strangely, Koreans tend to think that there is justice and pride only when you side with the losers and estranged of the world. Why is this so? I believe it is because of the resistance culture of the non-mainstreamers. It is the same way that they view domestic issues.
What prosperity we have now is thanks to the philosophy and culture of the mainstreamers of the past. This country was built on the constructive and productive thought that one must learn, work hard and save with the determination to live well. In the process, jaebeol were created and corruption occurred. Those are the points that the non-mainstreamers criticized. In a democratic society, it is natural that the mainstreamers and non-mainstreamers switch places one day. Such changes of place keep society healthy. What matters, however, is that such a change must be accompanied by changes of perception and culture. In order for a country to do well, the mainstream that leads society should have a mainstream-like mind. It should have a strong sense of responsibility for society and be creative and active in the vision it has for society. A non-mainstream that remains cynical and rebellious even after turning mainstream will only hinder the progress of society. The Roh Moo-hyun government gives the impression that it is more ready to pick a fight with the past than provide a vision for the future. The fight with the media, the fight with the jaebeol, the fight with bureaucracy, the fight with educational institutions...
President Roh knows the weaknesses of the non-mainstreamers. And the first fruit of his change of heart was the summit meeting in Washington. Now the president must approach domestic issues with a mainstream mind as well. It is still uncertain whether he will. The day after he arrived from the United States, President Roh said, “Gallileo believed that the earth was revolving around the sun but said that the sun revolved around the earth to avoid being put to death.” Those words could be a hint that his change is just a tactic.
For the sake of this country, may the president wake up from the illusion that he is still a non-mainstream champion.
* The writer is chief editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Moon Chang-keuk