[VIEWPOINT]Open societies and eased tensionsThe North Korean nuclear row continues to escalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula as it undercuts the inter-Korean rapprochement process. Although opinions diverge as to the prescriptions to the current stalemate, such trying times solicit us to go back to the basics. We need to prose the fundamental question of what it is that we truly desire.
Every man is instilled with the desire to live the good life. While still insufficient, we have made great and meaningful strides towards realizing this end. South Korea's per capita GNP has capped the $10,000 mark, and the enjoyment of basic constitutional rights is increasingly taken for granted. These developments have been facilitated by our audacious departure from the "closed society" and efforts to make headway towards the "open society." A closed society constrains individuals by invoking superstitions, taboo, absolute power and institutions conveniently welded to suit the tastes of the ruling class. Therein, an opportunity to develop the ego and excel at the personal level is effectively denied.
A mere century ago, our people were suffering under the repression of exploitative authorities. Societal status was determined by birth, and living a respectable life was all but impossible for the bulk of the population. But through the torrent of Japanese colonial rule, liberation and the ensuing war between North and South Korea, the traditional bedrock that had underpinned our society for so long began to erode. Through its unwavering commitment to education, our parents' generation was determined to pass on to posterity the hope for a better life. The steely determination to resist both in principle and in action unjust and repressive power allowed our country to graduate ignorance, poverty and authoritarianism.
An open society acknowledges the intellectual authority of each and every constituent to make decisions for himself in molding his own future. Lofty principles, including equality, liberty and humanitarian benevolence are sacrosanct. An open society rests firm on the democratic tenet that state sovereignty is solely attributable to and derives from the will of the people. Individual freedom and property rights cannot be infringed upon without invoking the statutes of a just and fair legal system. Unless having trespassed the freedom and property rights of other citizens, its constituents are guaranteed of the inherent right to pursue his personal goals through means of his own choice. The members of an open society compete with one another on a level plane, by incorporating and evoking to the fullest their individual talents, knowledge, creativity and wealth. Hence, the economy is driven to its fullest potential, and the society as a whole is allowed to prosper. This is how people with differing physical traits, thoughts, habits and dispositions are able to embrace an atmosphere of mutual respect.
An open society is the only mechanism developed by humanity by which people can aid one another in their quest for collective prosperity. Whereas the South Korean society is burdened with an obligation to perfect its model of an open society, the North confronts the formidable task of dislodging itself from the straight jacket of a repressive regime. Only by embracing these tasks can peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula be placed within reach.
If the North-South reconciliation efforts are intended to foster peace and prosperity in the region, the two Koreas should advise and aid each other in their respective efforts to harbor an atmosphere wherein democratic principles and the individual's freedom are upheld. I propose the "open nationalism" concept, which affirms the right of any person adhering to the open society principle to be allowed to coexist on the Korean Peninsula. It should be a guiding principle underpinning inter-Korean relations. South Korea should alleviate the suffering and poverty of North Korean residents, even if it translates into material sacrifice. We should spare no efforts in aiding the North, if and when it decides to shed the restraints of a closed society to embrace the merits of an open one. As a single people, striving towards such ends amounts to none other than our collective obligation.
However, North Korea's attempts to threaten the existence of the South, repress its liberties and stifle the workings of its democratic system cannot be justified, as such attitudes are inconsistent with the desire to achieve national harmony. Intimidation and aggression projected towards certain media enterprises in South Korea, not to mention attempts to derail the investigation process of the prosecution serve as examples. Such behavior may stem from a poor understanding of a system where the preservation of individual freedoms and property rights constitute the prerequisites for a prosperous and stable society. Or, it may have root in the belief that peace and prosperity of the Korean people can be thrown to the back burner so that the repressive regime in Pyeongyang can tighten its suffocating hold on the minds of its citizens. Should the principles of an open society be derailed or compromised, the most poignant victims will be none other than the impoverished population in North Korea and the efforts in the South to provide appropriate aid. Only when its respective leadership comes to terms with these basic principles can inter-Korean relations truly flourish.
* The writer is director of the Center for Economic Information of the Korea Development Institute. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Yoo Jung-ho