[FOUNTAIN]A dark side of nationalism can emerge

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[FOUNTAIN]A dark side of nationalism can emerge

Russian President Vladimir Putin has reportedly warned the country’s Olympic athletes to sing along with the national anthem at sports competitions. The story goes back to the European Championships held in Portugal in June. Mr. Putin was furious when he saw Russian players chewing gum when the anthem was played before the match against Spain. Now, the president wants Russian athletes competing in the Athens Olympics to treat the national anthem more seriously.
A former KGB official, Mr. Putin is considered to have revived the Russian economy from a decade-long slump, but at the same time he has created absolute rule by establishing a tight network with former KGB members, getting rid of political enemies and suppressing the media.
During the 1970s, under the rule of President Park Chung Hee, the national flag-lowering ceremony was a daily event. At 6 p.m. sharp, everyone had to stop what he was doing and stand at attention until the national anthem was over. Koreans recited the “Oath to the Flag,” vowing that we would devote our bodies and souls for the eternal glory of the nation and the people.
In retrospect, this sounds unbelievably strange. But the authoritarian government had a tight grip on the citizens. Its justification was the statism that prioritizes the nation over individuals. The government incorporated that ideology into the daily routine by forcing citizens to bow to the national flag and the state’s power.
Just as Mr. Putin has done for Russia, President Park Chung Hee’s statism may have caused South Korea to be seated today in the last row of advanced countries. But his oppressive regime had lasting side effects: precious values such as individuality, ideology, freedom of thought and pluralism have been undermined.
In order to survive in the international sphere, every nation inevitably resorts to nationalism to a certain degree. But we all need to watch out not to be haunted by the specter of statism.
In the upcoming Olympic games in Athens, many Korean athletes will be standing at the medal podium. How will they react to the national flag and anthem at that glorious moment? The last thing we want to see is them crying, “Long live Korea!” like North Korean defectors.


by Lee Young-ki

The writer is a deputy culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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