[FORUM]Forgotten, discarded generationThe “development generation” in Korea was the 30-year period from the 1960s to the 1980s. Led by Koreans in their 50s, 60s and 70s, this generation worked hard, kept moving forward and did not waver about which direction they should be going. Because people of that generation had almost nothing of material value, they had no choice but to put priority on solving the basic problems of food and shelter. The Republic of Korea is where it is today because of their sweat and blood, the major force for development. Among the more than 100 countries that were liberated or won their independence since the end of World War II, Korea is the only one that has achieved both a liberal democracy and a market economy comparable to that of advanced countries.
The development generation laid the physical foundation for these achievements. In this process, they sometimes compromised with, submitted to, or confronted Korea’s political power and sometimes acted corruptly. In this sense, they are a tainted generation. But they fulfilled their dream of a liberation from hunger and later the establishment of a liberal democracy.
The major actors in the development generation, which accomplished such great achievements, are now retired either because they are aged or were forced to retire after the 1997 financial crisis. Most of the people in their 50s, the youngest among that generation, were forced out of their jobs at the height of their influence without ever having enjoyed the chance to realize their dreams.
Some of their contemporaries have received just the opposite treatment, recognition and even monetary compensation, because they have been recognized as fighters for democracy by the government. Some of them have been invited into politics or given administrative jobs in the government, and others have voluntarily entered politics. The democracy fighters have grown to be a pivotal force in the Roh Moo-hyun administration after first being recognized in the Kim Dae-jung administration.
The silent majority of the development generation seems to feel uncomfortable with this reality, not because of envy or jealousy but perhaps because of their confusion over their identity. “Where do we stand,” they ask, “we who laid the groundwork for the realization of democracy?”
What makes those people even more gloomy is the endlessly corrupt behavior of many of the former democracy fighters who lived in the same days of wind and storm. Regardless of whether they supported the military dictatorship or participated in the fight for democracy, the whole generation is being tarred by scandals that are coming to light every day.
The silent people of that generation feel angry and mistreated to be stigmatized as a corrupt generation even if they had nothing to do with the democracy movement.
Son Kil-seung, the chairman of SK Group, handed over tens of billions of won to the ruling and opposition parties in last year’s presidential election campaign through Representatives Choi Don-woong and Lee Sang-soo. Their deal was based on power. The spirit of the times was that the attitude of the development generation ― political leadership can solve all problems ― had to be changed for democracy to progress.
But then both the “modernization” and the “democratization” elements of that generation made a deal as murky as those made by gangsters. Now they argue about who received more money than others, and whether the money was given voluntarily or not. What is the difference? There can be no fundamental difference in the sense that both the loser “Mr. Straightforward” and the winner “Mr. Civil Rights Lawyer” are illegitimate children of the development generation now entangled in corruption charges.
Why did this absurd state of affairs come about? The development forces, democrats and modernizers, both let political hacks who contended for power rule this country for too long. The leaders of the development generation should reflect on their past deeds and undertake the liberation of our country from corruption as their last task. Making a corruption-free society means completing the structure of our liberal democracy and our market economy.
Although they are disappointed, they should unflinchingly take the lead in civic movements to break the chains of corruption to give our next generation a better life. If millions of silent older people concentrate all their efforts, our last dream of this age will surely come true.
It would be a crushing disappointment for them to have to give up their dream.
* The writer is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Sioux Lee