[FOUNTAIN]A generation of ‘freedom’s children’ hereWhen Germany was unified in 1989, the Cold War-era confrontation between East and West Germany collapsed. The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 deprived communism of its power. Those two historical landmarks brought a pivotal change to the conventional concept of confrontation that had dominated European thinking at the time, such as capitalism versus communism, right versus left and labor versus capital. Most of all, democracy became complacent now that the enemy had fallen apart.
A German sociologist, Ulrich Beck, emphasized that the stars of the new era were “freedom’s children” in his 1995 book “Democracy Without Enemies.” He referred to the young generation that does not feel the “limit of the wall” and the “limit of closed thinking,” thanks to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The new generation has broken out of the oppressive social structure from the first modern age, when individualism was compromised in the name of marriage, family, class and nation.
They established the second modern age by enjoying freedom without enemies and an expansion of individualism. Critics say their extreme individualism and lack of political awareness destroyed the order of social values and encouraged social deviation. But Ulrich Beck defended “freedom’s children” by noting that they are more active in volunteer work and participate more in social activities than the older generation. The youngsters actually reject politics because they are extremely political, he insisted.
Does all this apply to Korean youth, who witnessed the inter-Korean summit and Mount Geumgang tourism? Many say they have a relatively small sense of social and ethnic responsibility, are indifferent to politics and extremely individualistic. Some used election day as a vacation day instead of voting. But they also protested in candlelight vigils and cheered on the Korean soccer team in the streets during the World Cup. They might reject politics in normal times, but when they feel their participation is needed, they make individual and voluntary efforts, rather than the controlled group actions as in the past. The older generation lived through the Cold War and oppressive military regimes, and they are taken by the concept of an enemy. But the new generation grew up with behavioral freedom and liberal thinking.
by Kim Seok-hwan
The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.