[INSIGHT]Making criticism disappear

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[INSIGHT]Making criticism disappear

There are those who support President Roh Moo-hyun and his plan to transfer the capital city and there are those who oppose the transfer plan but still support the president. The ideal thing for the president would be to win support for the transfer plan and maintain support for himself as well.
But by declaring last week that he would stake his government’s fate on the transfer of the capital, President Roh ended up making enemies of all those who oppose the plan. Opposing the transfer plan has now become opposing the government. This puts those who oppose the plan but still support the president in a dilemma. Should they change their opinion on the transfer plan despite privately thinking otherwise? Or should they turn their backs on the president without wanting to?
As a result of the president’s statement, any possibility of a compromise on the transfer issue was blown away. The president could have agreed to transferring only the administrative agencies or to delaying the transfer until the economy has recovered. There were several compromises that could have been made for the mutual good. Yet the president has strongly insisted that since the law has already been passed by the National Assembly, he would stake his fate on implementing the plan promptly. He seems to implicitly accuse anyone opposing the plan of trying to undermine his power.
At this point, any further debate on the transfer plan has become impossible. Even with blatant problems concerning the plan, one is at risk of being accused of trying to subvert the government or undermine the president’s power if one points them out. Issues of such importance as the transfer of the national capital should be preceded by sufficient discussion and debate with the public having plenty of say in it. Such a plan should be pursued on the foundation of a solid national consensus. Unfortunately, people are now being forced to either support it or not, no questions asked. The government claims that it has staked its own future on the plan but a democratic government’s first duty is to serve the public and that includes a willingness to persuade and compromise.
The capital transfer is not the only issue on which the public is not given a chance to express further opinions. One is at great risk of being considered an evil-intentioned augmenter of crisis should one express too much concern about the economy. Prospects for the economy in the second half are even gloomier, yet everyone is careful not to use the word “crisis” anymore. Concern over national security after the reduction of the U.S. troops in Korea is “the flippant exaggeration of conservative media.”
With so many points of question in our security policies with the change of currents in the Korea-U.S. alliance and the reduction of the U.S. troops, the government refuses to talk and no public debate is going on. No one seems willing to talk. Surely there are people in the government and the government party who worry about the transfer and national security. Why are they not speaking out?
Witnessing how the report by the Korean Society for Journalism and Communications Studies on the media coverage of the president’s impeachment was bashed by government officials, one cannot help thinking how scary it has become to speak out in our society these days.
The report concluded that the television coverage of the impeachment had been unfairly biased toward the president. Many people agreed with the report only to see the report shredded to pieces by the authorities. Has it come to the point that no one can criticize the powerful in our society anymore?
During the military regimes of the past, it was not difficult for an educated person to succeed in society, provided that he or she had the “right spirit of nationalism.” Sympathy and support for the authorities meant success, while silence and sullen acquiescence could mean a sudden disappearance in the middle of the night. Nevertheless, it was still considered a shame to bow and give in to oppression, and one took care not to be called a “sakura,” the slang word originating from Japanese that meant “hypocrite.” Ironically, now that we’ve become “democratized,” people seem to have no problem openly flattering and fawning on authority.
They turn a blind eye to the incompetence and failures of the government and the government party but are more than ready to criticize the opposition and any critical media. They call themselves progressive and outwardly seem to criticize the conservative forces in society based on ideological differences, but the kowtowing instincts are the same as in the past.
For example, when criticizing regional strife, they point to the crushing victory of the opposition in certain regions and ignore the fact that the government party had swept all the other regions of the country. The troubling fact is that no one seems to be ashamed of this “sakura” phenomenon. As in the past, it is a much easier life if one bows to power. Yet, what are the intellectuals and civic groups in society but salt that has lost its saltiness if they have no sense of criticism about authority?
A society where everyone remains silent will hardly progress in the right way. In the past, special agencies or evil laws made sure that people listened to authority. Yet, all a president needs to do nowadays is threaten to resign and accuse his critics of unpatriotic intentions to make criticism disappear.

* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Song Chin-hyok
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