[OUTLOOK]Bread, not ideology, is keyChuseok, Korea’s thanksgiving and harvest holiday, is only a few days away. Thanks to the special demand before Chuseok, delivery companies are having a hectic time. Upon a closer look at the contents of deliveries, the increase has largely come from agricultural products, including red pepper and rice, which parents in the rural areas send to their children in the city. The products might contain the hearts of the parents; they want to be of some help in relieving their children in the city of their difficult livelihoods.
In fact, the Republic of Korea is not a country where the people should be worried about their daily bread. The size of its economy is the 12th largest in the world. But Koreans are now concerned about their bread. It is not because they cannot have meals right now but because they are worried about their bread in the future.
In front of the majority of the people who worry about their bread, our politicians keep playing the tape recorder day by day that sings about the National Security Law and history.
If politicians make the people worried about their bread and then chant about the National Security Law over and over again, would it be heard in the people’s ears? If it leaves aside the people’s livelihood and then chants only history, would politics look fine in the people’s sight?
There are priorities in every job. The people’s opposition to the abolition of the National Security Law stood at 82 percent not because they knew the details of the law. Simply put, they don’t think now is the time to discuss the matter. How many people would there be who have difficulty leading their lives because of the security law? Could it be 0.01 percent? Earning their bread is the most urgent matter right now.
Bread is life and hope as well. But the people who say they live without hope amount to 70 percent of us. In other words, they say they have difficulty earning their livelihood. So people are leaving Korea. Not just the rich but also the disintegrated middle class is leaving Korea. The fact that last year’s total assets of five banks in Los Angeles, whose major customers are Koreans, rose 20 percent to $6 billion reflects this exodus from Korea.
Ten years ago, 72 out of 100 Koreans were reportedly proud that they were born Korean, but now they are reduced to 55 out of 100. Not only that, 67 percent of the respondents said that they were discontent with the direction our country is heading in general, including politics, economic and social affairs, national defense and foreign affairs. As a result, the index of the people’s psychological pain is said to have increased 1.6 times, compared to the figure under the Kim Dae-jung administration.
Our society is just boisterous but without vitality. The government and the ruling party only stir up the situation but seems unable to settle anything properly. We feel they only create problems here and there. So the cup of complaints is filled to the brim. No, it is overflowing. Pastors, who used to calmly emphasize Biblical doctrine alone, are beginning to deplore the recent political situation. Buddhist leaders, who used to express their neutral and moderate positions on realistic matters, are not hiding their critical remarks.
President Roh asked what significance there could be even if the Korean society achieved an age of a $30,000 income per capita without cleaning up the distortions of history. But the majority of the people would wish with frank hearts that they could just reach that prosperous era.
President Roh said that if the people knew the history of the Special Investigation Committee on Anti-National Activities, their blood would chill. But many people may have already actually experienced many times their blood being chilled because of the president.
The former prime minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, turned Singapore from a country with a $400 national income per capita to a country with a $30,000 national income per capita. The dignity of the country as well as the quality of the people’s lives is contained in a phrase, $30,000 national income per capita, rather than in thousands of ideologies and tens of thousands of eloquent speeches.
But our country has failed to cross the threshold of a $10,000 income per capita for over a decade. It is said that the Korean economy has only 15 years to grow. When it becomes an aging society by 2019, it will no longer be able to run even if it wants to. If it does not run now, it will stall forever.
The raison d’etre of a leader is to prepare umbrellas in advance for people to use if a “rain of crisis” approaches. What prepares and unfolds the umbrellas is not the “leadership of ideology” but the “leadership of the bread.” The people hope for that realistic kind of leadership.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Chung Jin-hong