[OUTLOOK]The dark side of successBehind any great feat is equally great cost and sacrifice. If the 56-year-long history of the Republic of Korea has been a history of success, we must remember that there have been truly great sacrifices. How high a price has our society paid for such sacrifices and pain? If we are going through a historic turning point in Korean society right now, it might also be a crucial moment to heal and comfort the grief and pain of history.
We founded our country under the most adverse geopolitical conditions and timing, and successfully protected the independence and liberty of the nation. We have grown out of the unimaginably appalling yoke of poverty and achieved surprising economic growth in only three decades. We have also overcome the deeply rooted authoritarian tradition and system and secured democracy.
But how have society and the country responded to the sacrifice and pain on the other side of the series of successes? Those who contributed to the success have been paid off with rewards and benefits. But we have arrived today without realizing justice for the majority who had to silently endure the pain and insult. How to resolve the pain and grief of the past is the challenge Koreans are left with today.
In the vortex of the Cold War, the Republic of Korea was born with an adverse fate as a divided country.
In the process of founding the nation, heated internal discord ultimately led to the national catastrophe of the Korean War. The anti-communist policy, a result of the sense of crisis in a critical moment, combined with the Cold War ideology, produced numerous victims. The difficulties that the families and friends of those who went to the North or those who were suspected, charged, and punished for being left-wing or communist had to go through, are unimaginable. There are no statistics as to the exact number of persecuted people and their families, but they would surely make up a considerable part of the population of Korea.
It can be assumed that their understanding of the legitimacy of the Republic of Korea would be far more complex than the usual patriotism. The problem is that there has not yet been sufficient effort as a community to heal their pain and normalize their sentiment and understanding.
On the other side of the successes of industrialization and rapid growth lies another sacrifice. Koreans deserve to take pride in the astonishing rise from the ruins of the war to the 12th largest economy in the world and a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. But there has been no understanding of how many workers, farmers and common citizens had to go through a hard time in the process of growth, which classes and groups were ruined in the course of industrialization, and what kind of pain and difficulties they had to endure.
Most of all, there has been little recognition and response as a community to the growing gap between the rich and the poor and the expanding sense of relative poverty that accompanied industrialization. As a result, the discontent of the people spread rapidly and began to replicate faster than the speed of economic growth.
These rookie politicians who have emerged as the new stars of Korean politics in the recent National Assembly election can testify how much sacrifice we had to endure in order to democratize the country. They feel frustrated and grow furious at today’s situation where democratization does not automatically guarantee that the resulting democracy will be stable. The political situation could possibly trigger their revolutionary impulses.
In retrospect, the weight of the sacrifice and price of glory is growing heavier than the successes and achievements themselves. In the absence of a political system or social contract to gradually relieve the accumulated grief, discontent, suspicion and regrets, the citizens inevitably feel insecure. If the National Assembly election results have any historic meaning, it would be that society has arrived at a juncture to openly discuss the matter of the “price of success” that we have been trying to ignore, and finally seek solutions. Let’s not be haunted by the irreversible past and unfortunate incidents. It is time to display the creativity and agility of Koreans.
By infusing new vitality into representative democracy, let’s hope for a new political culture that reaches a national consensus through serious conversation that will confirm through national consensus on the legitimacy of the Republic of Korea.
* The writer, a former prime minister, is an adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Hong-koo