[INSIGHT]Time for some Blue House actionPresident Roh Moo-hyun has spent nearly six months in the Blue House. Half a year does not sound like a long time, but so many things have happened since Mr. Roh took office that it feels like a long time. After all, the beginning of each administration has always been a time of confusion since the days of President Kim Young-sam. Mr. Kim started out with a historical task of breaking away from the remnants of the military regimes. Former President Kim Dae-jung found himself in a position to save the nation from the shock of the financial crisis as he started his term. Mr. Roh has inherited a government in the middle of an elevated nuclear threat and Korea-U.S. relations in jeopardy. No administration has carefree early days.
Every five years, Korea experiences a reshuffle of the old and new orders. The last two administrations had clear justification to take the helm of the country. The Kim Young-sam administration was revered as the first civilian administration in the country after decades of repressive military governments. The Kim Dae-jung administration had the historical distinction of being the first opposition party to take power.
Therefore, the two Kims were allowed to freely express their will to reform. The direction was obvious. Their reform measures were essentially attempts to destroy the old order by shaking off the vestiges of authoritarian rule and anti-democratic practices while doing justice to the distorted chapters of Korean history.
Therefore, the last two administrations were able to fancy themselves as the ultimate good while blaming others as the remnants of evil. They were able to set the direction and goals of reform just by denying and destroying the old system, instead of creating a new system with new ideas. But both acted arrogantly; two administrations in a row demanded reform from the people but did not reform themselves; they criticized the faults of others but tried to justify their own evils. The failed “civilian” and “sunshine” autocracies’ exits were tainted with financial crisis and political scandal.
Mr. Roh and his government could learn a few things from the blunders of the two Kims. The last decade of Korea’s history offers the best possible lessons for the Roh administration. Above all, Mr. Roh’s cause is different from those of the two Kims. He does not have a grand cause of clearing up the remnants of the military regimes, nor a change of party in power.
If anything, Mr. Roh can boast that his administration, created by the repulsion and antagonism that young Koreans have for the old, is fresh and new. He has been given the far more difficult task of creating a new system, not destroying the old one, as it pursues reforms.
After six months, we can certainly notice one change ― the administration has not taken over the prosecutors. As Mr. Roh has insisted, his promise not to rely on the power of the prosecution is becoming reality. A visible new trend created by the administration is that the prosecution is growing, to a worrisome degree, independent. Unlike in the past two administrations, we no longer see “parachute” appointments to government agencies or public corporations. The president has not shown any signs of the authoritarianism that all his predecessors displayed.
We hear a lot of talk about reform, but the discussion lacks clear direction and goals: where we are headed or what we are pursuing. We could easily pinpoint what went wrong in the past, but now we need to focus on what we should do next. Criticism is one role of the media.
The chief executive should win over Koreans with constructive ideas. The roles of the media and the president have been mixed up. The presidential office is not a place for discussions; there has been too much talk and no action for the past six months.
Destruction-oriented reform is easier. We are tired of the dichotomy of good and evil, and it is about time that the president come up with a constructive, productive reform agenda. Reform, in its truest sense, allows the people to participate, unify and cooperate, not divide, exclude and alienate.
Like the two sides of a coin, the last two presidents ― both fighters against dictators ― became autocratic themselves. The new president has won the support of the new generation and has declared that he will create a new system. Where is it? We have waited six months; we want to hear his vision to save the economy and reform politics. The next four-and-a-half years are not a long time.
The playwright George Bernard Shaw wrote his own epitaph before he died at his country home in Hertfordshire: “I knew if I stayed around long enough, something like this would happen.”
* The writer is executive editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kwon Young-bin