[TODAY]An unnecessary tragedyA few weeks before the impeachment of President Roh Moo-hyun became a national sensation, an ambassador from Europe told me he could not understand the politics of Korea.
To someone who was trained to think according to Cartesian reasoning, Korean politics and media seems to have only emotional opinions and lack logical dialogue and negotiation. The 17th-century French philosopher and mathematician Rene Descartes famously said, “I think, therefore I am.”
It is not hard to guess how the diplomat, who is used to the celebrated rationalism of Descartes, feels about the impeachment crisis.
The day after the National Assembly passed the impeachment bill, a senior official of the U.S. Department of State met with Korean political scientists. He told the scholars that he wasn’t surprised by the incident because he knew that Korean politics was rougher than U.S. politics.
On the same day, a member of the International Relations Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives summed up the characteristics of the political crisis in Korea in one word: “chaos.”
Even those who have never heard of Descartes know that hysteria, chaos, waves of emotions and lack of logical dialogue and reasoning drove Korean politics to the impeachment drama.
But Koreans find themselves in a different position than that of foreign observers. Foreigners consider Korean politics as an abstract object of observation and understanding ― or lack of understanding. But to us, the political fiasco is an existential problem directly related to unemployment, the nuclear threat posed by the North, dispatching troops to Iraq and other social feuds.
After all, the impeachment bill has been passed. The Consti-tutional Court has been entrusted with the job of judging whether the impeachment was legitimate. The National Assembly election date is approaching. Now, we need to begin worrying about the days after the court ruling and the election. The civic organizations should blow out their candles, and Nosamo, the president’s support group, should take off their signature yellow uniforms. The pro-Roh television stations should stop abusing their influence to defend the president. The opposition party that has fallen into its own trap of impeachment needs to end the hostility and put its combat guard down. We all have to wait for the Constitutional Court’s decision.
As the current atmosphere suggests, if the Constitutional Court overrules the impeachment bill and the ruling party becomes the majority party in the National Assembly election, which practically became a national referendum on the impeachment bill, Mr. Roh would return to the office not only with an indulgence but also a renewed and powerful mandate. He would want to push the reform agenda that had been hindered by the opposition party that dominated the assembly. To the opposition party and the establishment, this scenario would be a nightmare come true.
Mr. Roh could have avoided being impeached by the National Assembly, but he didn’t. He might have had designs for the booty from the showdown. But at this point, it is futile to reckon the scheme of Mr. Roh and the strategic miscalculation of the opposition party. What is most urgent is to prevent a split in the nation.
Mr. Roh and the politicians need to learn from the higher sprit of Chough Byung-ok, the president of the Korea Democratic Party in the 1950s. Mr. Chough had compromised with President Syngman Rhee in 1958 during the crisis over the national security law, saying he could not burn down the entire house to get rid of the bedbugs. When the party hardliners protested the compromise, Yoo Jin-san, then the secretary general of the party, insisted that dying over indignation was easier than living for a righteous cause.
The crisis Korean society faces today is a product of the imprudent speech and conduct of the president, the establishment’s rejection of Mr. Roh and the frustration of the younger generation. Right after independence from the Japanese, only about 2,000 people had a higher education, and they were the ones who occupied the best positions in the newly established country. Now, countless youth are unemployed despite their superb educational backgrounds. Even those who have jobs are frustrated and dissatisfied. At the verge of nihilism, the younger generation feels catharsis from the postmodern behavior and speech of Mr. Roh.
The tragedy of the Grand National Party originated from their inability to understand reality. The opposition party was taken over by the negative politics that represented the establishment’s sentiment against Mr. Roh and repeatedly made mistakes, such as insisting on the release of its former chairman, Suh Chung-won, from custody. They couldn’t even imagine communicating with the Internet generation, the eye of the typhoon in the political world. In the age of networks, the Grand National Party has disqualified itself as a political party.
The only way is a grand compromise. After the decision of the Constitutional Court and the National Assembly election, the opposition party and the establishment should acknowledge the reform-minded agenda of Mr. Roh. The government and the politicians need to provide a channel for the young generation to let out its energy. In return, Mr. Roh should reflect on his complex and pride using Freudian psychoanalysis. He must realize that the fall of the opposition party and the rising popularity of the ruling party do not mean the citizens are supporting the president himself.
* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie