[VIEWPOINT]Citizens need to be given hopeChuseok is one of the biggest holidays in Korea. But hardly anyone felt happy during the holiday season this year. Rather than happiness, citizens felt frustration and almost a fury on the verge of explosion. Whenever families and friends gathered around a festive meal, people couldn’t help but complain about the country and the government. It is quite strange that citizens worry about the president and the government, not the other way around.
Since the inauguration of President Roh Moo-hyun, we have been hearing people saying that the last few months have been harsher than the times that followed the 1997 financial crisis. On top of the slumping economy and continued labor union strikes, Mother Nature has not helped. Because of the endless rain, seasonal merchants whose livelihood depends on summer sales went out of business, and farmers expected a bad harvest. Adding insult to injury, Typhoon Maemi, the most powerful storm ever to hit Korea, has destroyed already ruined fields.
For farmers, this year’s Chuseok holidays were devastating. The situation is similar in urban areas. People have begun to blame the government for lack of preparation. The lives and property lost in the storm could have been saved or minimized, if there were proper contingency plans. Citizens are becoming less and less confident in the government.
Whenever a conversation begins, it leads to a debate on why the economy has nosedived since Mr. Roh came to power, why people are having a harder time when the government is supposedly working for them, why unions cannot cease for a day from strikes and demonstrations, why the government is so obsessed with its war against the media, why the government is so concerned about Pyeongyang’s attitude, and why the politicians seem so confused. Citizens are frustrated and concerned.
Koreans are desperate because society seems in chaos and carrying on a normal life looks impossible. But more importantly, people no longer see hope for the future. Citizens ask why the government cannot resolve problems. But they are skeptical that the government and officials are capable of tackling the ever-more-complex problems even if they are aware of them.
The government and president should humbly accept and understand the public’s views, and seriously consider what they can do to give citizens confidence and hope. The most urgent task is helping the victims of the typhoon and the prolonged monsoon rain financially by using the reserve fund or by drafting a supplementary budget if needed. Don’t waste time and energy on unnecessary battles, but concentrate on reviving the economy. Give hope to the unemployed youth, grass-roots people, small and medium business owners, farmers and fishermen, and those who are considering emigrating, that living in this country is not so bad after all.
by Na Seong-lin
The writer is a professor of economics at Hanyang University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.