[OUTLOOK]Don’t forget the good historyThe “386 legislators” who entered the National Assembly in a dramatic fashion after the opposition’s efforts to impeach President Roh Moo-hyun backfired are now reportedly divided over foreign and economic policies. If our country is to progress and people to lead a comfortable life, these legislators must have confidence in the political system of the republic. And they must be brought up to become a source of creative energy for the country.
In this light, I would like to mention some historical conceptions that have long been forgotten by us and by these legislators. First, the legislators must think deeply about the fact that Korea is the only democratic republic in Northeast Asia. Japan is a constitutional monarchy. China is a country under one-party dictatorship of the Communist Party and North Korea is one of the most secluded countries in the world, governed by nepotism. The people of those three countries do not directly vote for their leaders. Japan has an emperor, China has a party leader and North Korea calls its leader by the title of defense committee chairman.
The political freedom that Koreans enjoy is far greater than that in North Korea and China and even in Japan. To some extent, it is even greater than the political freedom in Great Britain or Switzerland. We have an influx of non-governmental organizations, local autonomy and a liberal culture bred mostly on college campuses and which sometimes has its extremes, such as the case of prisoners who beat police officers, prison wardens and bus drivers to death. In Korea, even North Korean spies can be extolled as “democratic fighters.” This is perhaps the only country in the world where such a thing could happen. This freedom made the appearance of President Roh Moo-hun possible. We should recognize the value of this freedom.
Since the armistice that ended the Korean War in 1953, we’ve enjoyed 51 years of peace. During these 51 years, there was never a war on the Korean Peninsula. This is the longest period of peace we’ve had since the opening of our country in the late 19th century. Since 1876, when Korea was first opened to the outside world, Korea witnessed the Sino-Japanese War from 1894 to 1895, the Russo-Japanese War from 1904 to 1905, the loss of sovereignty in 1910, World War II from 1936 to 1945 and the Korean War from 1950 to 1953. Not a single generation had been able to enjoy peace.
If there are no wars for the next nine years, until 2013, the Korean Peninsula would for the first time in the modern age have had a period of peace for over two generations, a period longer than the 60 years blotted by wars from 1894 to 1953. We are surrounded by the four biggest powers in the world: the United States, Japan, China and Russia. We must ensure that the painful process of modernization that we experienced since the 19th century will lead to peace and prosperity. For this, we must nurture “the power to keep peace” with the determination of waging another war for independence.
Another point that the 386 generation legislators must keep in mind is that our country made many blunders in the process of growing and developing economically. However, no one should deny that the successful modern economic progress we made since 1958, after we recovered from the scourges of the Korean War, was the starting point for the “Korean Revolution.”
The success of our modern economic program helped us to get over our psychological inclination to degrade and belittle our own people, a consequence of our colonial education, and it made us strive to get educated and achieve democracy. Based on this, we became an exemplary case, among all countries that were liberated after the World War II, of successful modernization, achieving political democracy, economic growth and education.
What we should especially keep in mind is that Korea’s economic progress started literally from zero. Japan had already opened its doors partially to the Western world since the 16th century through its port of Nagasaki, and it accumulated its capital by colonial exploitation. Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore’s economic progress started with the capital set up by ethnic Chinese who had succeeded in the United States, Europe and Southeast Asia. China’s present-day economic boom was also initially fueled by the capital of ethnic Chinese emigrants around the world, whose money made up 80 to 90 percent of the foreign investment in China.
Compared to these economies, Korea’s economy had no support in the beginning except for the welfare support provided by the United States. It was an autonomous effort that started from a complete “nothing.” We did not have ethnic emigrants to help us out or colonial capital accumulation to depend on. All we had was a strong sense of independence and determination to survive. Unfortunately, the creative and autonomous efforts of our leaders such as Syngman Rhee and Park Chung Hee were clouded by corruption, indolence and arrogance among their successors and their subordinates and led to the political storm that is brewing to this day.
The 386 generation legislators should think deeply about the fact that we are the only democratic republic in Northeast Asia, with 51 years of peace even as surrounded by the four biggest powers in the world, and about the difficulties, the value and significance of our modern economic progress, achieved without any outside support or exploitation. Our success could go down as a historical achievement beyond the region of Northeast Asia, depending on how we do from now on.
Do not misuse the name of reform in emotional idealism and hypocritical pragmatism, and do not get in the way of true reform. Our basic prerequisite of living in this country is not affluence or prosperity but survival and security.
It is keeping the peace that has continued for 51 years and protecting our entity as the only democratic republic in Northeast Asia that has been the basis for our amazing modern economic development.
* The writer, a former minister of science and technology, is the chairman of the Forum for World Peace. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Jin-hyun