[OUTLOOK]Win democracy, then protect itWhy is the reality of our country constant discord? Why is the centripetal force of consolidation getting weaker and the centrifugal force toward fragmentation strengthening? Because there are no answers to these questions, Korean people are troubled by anxiety and concerns.
During the Chuseok holidays, we couldn’t cast away the shadow of worries from our hearts. This was not just because of the typhoon that caused tremendous damage. The concerns of our people were remarkable in that they were the outcome of success rather than the result of failure. Korea has been recognized and envied by other countries across the world as a model country of democracy.
The Republic of Korea is a country where people could bring two former generals-turned-presidents to court and send them to prison and where two civilian presidents had to admit their sons’ involvement in corruption scandals and send them to prison during their terms. However difficult our economy and however chaotic our society is now, no one is anxious about a military coup. While criticizing the president straightforwardly to the extent of embarrassing him, no one worries about retaliation from the authorities as people did in the past.
In short, we live in an age when we have achieved democracy. The crises and uncertainties of today, however, come from ignoring the simple logic that the mere success of democracy cannot guarantee the nation’s stability or prosperity.
In the past, we were so preoccupied with democratization that we could hardly prepare for difficulties that democracy might bring. The leaders of our society, particularly the democratic movement leaders, should be largely held responsible for that failure. But now is not the time to discuss whom to blame. Moreover, we cannot blame the president we freely chose through a democratic procedure for all our anxiety. Rather, we have to reflect on our past indifference or hasty decisions, set a basic norm and take a new attitude toward governing our country through sincere discussions and negotiations. Above all, it is urgent to increase national awareness and reach a consensus on “freedom” and “law,” which are the essence of democracy.
We have endured sacrifices for democracy’s sake because we valued basic human rights and had a strong will to resist systematic infringements on these rights.
The determined will to win freedom ― in particular, freedom from violence by the authorities ― has provided the basis for a national consensus. But since the age of authoritarian rule passed, democratic movement leaders have revealed their limitations in maintaining our national enthusiasm for freedom in two ways. The first limitation was in not focusing on the huge effort it takes to preserve the free society we have won. The second was the failure to hold on to our belief in freedom and human rights as a basis for evaluating the North Korean regime and in drawing up a blueprint for national reunification. Not until a national position that gives top priority to freedom is proclaimed can we expect consistent foreign, security and unification policies.
If freedom is the basic value in a democratic society, then law is the basic rule. Actions that ignore the laws made by the National Assembly, representing the people, should be denounced as anti-democratic, destructive behavior. A democratic country is supported by national consent to the principle of autonomous submission that it will resolve all conflicts peacefully in accordance with legal procedures. Since democracy was attained, a trend to make light of the law and actions based on group egotism has become widespread in our society. This is a dreadful epidemic that might shake the cornerstone of our country and should be wiped out without delay by concentrating all efforts of the people.
Who can take the lead in carrying out this historic task? Approaching the political season with the legislative election ahead, President Roh Moo-hyun has said that he would not intervene in the party activity or competition and that he would devote himself to overcoming the nation’s crisis from a position beyond any political party. National Assembly Speaker Park Kwan-yong also said that he would give up running in the general election and take the lead in institutionalizing parliamentary democracy.
People want to believe that they will truly play a leading role in national administration with impartiality. Worried people are looking forward to seeing a leader who can protect freedom and the law.
* The writer, a former prime minister, is an advisor to the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Hong-koo