[VIEWPOINT]Let’s nurture a crop of HiddinksA dinner party was held by the Dutch Trade Mission delegation at the Seoul Grand Hyatt hotel on July 10. It turned out to be an unprecedented success for this kind of an event, and the reason was simple: When the news spread that Guus Hiddink was to attend the party, lots of people decided to show up. In her welcoming message, the Netherlands minister for foreign trade, Karien van Gennip, said proudly that “Mr. Hiddink was made in the Netherlands and there are many Hiddinks in the Netherlands.”
Mr. Hiddink played the main role in leading the Korean soccer team to the semifinals in the 2002 World Cup, filling us with enthusiasm. Loudly singing the rooter’s song, “Pilseung Korea ― Victory for Korea,” Koreans praised his leadership. How popular was he? Some said he should be a presidential candidate after changing his nationality. He is still popular, and whenever he comes to Korea, people gather.
Have we had no other Hiddinks in Korea? My answer is that there were many people like Mr. Hiddink in the past, and there will be more like him in the future. Let’s recall a few decades of Korean history. While it took Europe 200 years to achieve industrialization and Japan 100 years, Korea became an industrial nation in only 40 years. And on top of that, Korea achieved industrialization from the rubble of the Korean War. The world called this achievement the miracle on the Han River. These economic capabilities served as cornerstones for Korea’s achieving 4th place in the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games and for the Korean soccer team’s advancing to the semifinals in the 2002 World Cup.
Following industrialization, Korea achieved democracy in a relatively short period, surprising the world. Perhaps, the Korean economy was going so fast that it ran into the financial crisis in 1997 and almost disintegrated. But it recovered so quickly and dramatically that the world likened Korea to the phoenix, that mythical bird that arose from the ashes. Basically, Koreans are capable people and deserve such praise. Korea is the world’s largest producer of dynamic random access memory chips, which are often called the “rice” of the industrial society. It is the world’s top ship-builder and top maker of cell phones. Thus, from an absolutely poor country 40 years ago, Korea has become the 13th largest economy in the world today.
Korea’s gross domestic product last year was larger than the combined GDPs of the Philippines, Indonesia, Malay-sia and Thailand, the so-called new four dragons of Asia. Who achieved this success? Our people did. This was possible because there were numerous hard-working industrial workers like the Korean national soccer squad and there were leaders like Mr. Hiddink who had to agonize and decide.
Today, we are preoccupied with witchhunting as if everything that happened in the past was wrong. Is it right to say, as if there was no one who did things right, that there are only people who should be sent to prison? If we think things over with peace of mind, there were and are many qualified people like Mr. Hiddink in Korea. Our national climate, in which we hardly acknowledge other people’s merits and nurture leaders, is hindering the emergence of many Hiddinks. How can we expect to have leaders worthy of respect without fostering leaders and acknowledging them?
Mr. Hiddink came to Korea to take up his new post in January 2001 and led the Korean soccer team in 32 international tournaments until May 2002, just before the beginning of the World Cup. But he did not produce good results. When the Korean team was defeated five to zero by France and Czecho-slovakia, he was called “five-to-zero.” But because Koreans trusted and supported Mr. Hiddink despite various complaints and criticism against him, he was able to go on to the achievement of coaching the Korean team to become one of the four major powers at the 2002 World Cup.
We could also have many Hiddinks in each field if we take the time to support our leaders. I hope we will be able to create a social atmosphere in which we are not too hasty if there are no quick satisfactory results. We must encourage and embrace our leaders. Koreans do have such qualities. When Hiddinks emerge in many fields, Korea can produce another miracle that could surprise the world. Let’s search for Hiddinks. Then, our dreams will come true.
* The writer is Chairman and chief executive of the Korea International Trade Association.
by Kim Jae-chul