[FORUM]Maybe they’ve woken up

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[FORUM]Maybe they’ve woken up

They say the person most in need of rest is a person who’s just back from a vacation. My body feels heavier after spending a Chuseok holiday that was longer than in previous years. I’d smelled the cozy air of my home town for a long time and chatted with friends and relatives I was glad to see. How much heavier must those feel who had come from doing unpleasant duties.
This Chuseok must have been particularly unwelcome to politicians. Witnessing the angry crowd at the visit of political parties’ leaders to a street market just before the holidays, one can guess what indignities politicians must have gone through during Chuseok. How about giving them a short period of rest before the National Assembly’s regular session opens? This would also serve to give them time to inject the public opinion they gathered from their home towns into their policies. In all ways, one hopes that the politicians manage things in a manner that reflects the public opinion they heard during the holidays.
In a nutshell, the public calls for the government party and the opposition to stop all political bickering and to concentrate on the issue of today’s survival and tomorrow’s progress. Yet our current political situation seems to be going in the exact opposite direction, instilling apprehension and a sense of crisis in our hearts. If the politicians are to follow public opinion, there should at least be an atmosphere of civil conversation between the government party and the opposition. Yet the stand-off between the two parties is getting worse.
More friction and tension is predicted at the National Assembly’s annual inspection of the administration that will soon begin. Especially obvious is the fight the government party and the opposition will put up in each administrative agency over political issues such as the transfer of the capital city, the abolition of the National Security Act, the reform of the media and the redefinition of our history. The recent hassle between the Uri Party and the Seoul metropolitan government over alleged “government-organized demonstrations” to oppose the transfer of the capital blatantly showed the degree of our political strife.
Even taking into account their gains in next presidential election, the parties are struggling as if it were a matter of life or death. The hostility expressed by online supporters of each party is even more vicious. A left-leaning Web site harshly criticizes the Uri Party for being too slow. A Web site critical of the government passionately censures the Grand National Party for being too lukewarm in its response. They have the attitude of soccer fans that are about to burst onto the playing field with broken beer bottles in their hands. If we continue this way, Korean society might end up a rumbling match by December when the regular session closes.
Unless there is a determined shift to a politics of compromise, calamity is inevitable. We must immediately set about solving the most controversial political issues through conversation and negotiations instead of conflict.
The spiritual leader of Tibet, the Dalai Lama, strongly urges us to use our differences positively. In his book, “Forgiveness” he writes, “We must try to earn wisdom from our different perspectives. Not by might but by self-awakening and mutual respect, we must minimize violence. We must understand the others and share our own opinion through conversation.” We are at a time when we desperately need the wisdom of the Dalai Lama.
A faint ray of hope was seen in President Roh Moo-hyun’s address Sunday. “Dear countrymen. I understand you are going through some tough times. It makes my heart heavy to hear how there were no rush periods in Chuseok and how hard it was to prepare holiday food.” It is a relief to know that the president is at least aware of the hardships the people are going through. The deputy prime minister of finance and economy, Lee Hun-jai, also expressed his feelings in a pamphlet titled “Thinking of our people in hardship.” He wrote, “It makes my heart heavy to think of the economy. I am well aware of the people’s reproof that the government is not doing anything even when the people are suffering so.”
The heavy hearts of the president and the deputy prime minister should not stop at words. They must brainstorm with politicians from both the government party and the opposition who have come back from hearing the public opinion during Chuseok. They must take action in their policies and through politics. Only then will the deputy prime minister be able to keep his promise, “Next year, we will be able to talk about the hardships of this year as a memory.”

* The writer is the chief of the editorial page, JoongAng Ilbo.

by Heo Nam-chin
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