[INSIGHT]A useless war of attritionOn the day conservative groups held a large-scale demonstration in front of Seoul’s City Hall, Ms. Lee, a journalist in her late 30s, felt confused, walking from Gwanghwamun through the demonstration site to her newspaper office.
During the June 1987 democratization struggle, she was a senior college student. She walked from Sinchon Rotary through Seosomun to join the demonstration at City Hall. At the forefront stood the two Kims (Kim Dae-jung and Kim Young-sam), and the chairman of the National Association of College Students, who later became a lawmaker, was making an impassioned speech.
When students moved toward Gwanghwamun, the police advanced to intervene. As the demonstrators scattered, she fell, pushed by the crowd, and countless people stepped on her back to pass. She felt she was dying there. The police came rushing after her. Desperate, she said she stood up and ran toward the Seoul Plaza Hotel.
The same plaza where she was standing then is now filled with people in her parents’ generation. And they are now venting their anger. Does history repeat itself?
What does it mean to change generational roles in a demonstration at City Hall? Although Christian groups are said to have participated in large numbers, the fact that hundreds of thousands of unorganized adults gathered is a staggering incident.
Since the June struggle, when autocratic developmental forces were ousted, 17 years have passed and three democratic administrations have been in power. Over those years, the autocratic forces have been thoroughly denounced and pushed out of the mainstream. They may be resentful, asking where their contributions to development have gone and why they are driven away by highlighting their autocratic aspects only.
Their demonstration can be seen as the concentration of their discontent and indignation over the negligent treatment they receive although they had tightened their belts to grow the trees from which we are picking the fruits of “national restoration,” “$10,000 per capita income” and “the miracle on the Han River.”
Also, they ask what the so-called democratic administrations have achieved since they took office after the democratic struggle. They angrily ask what accomplishments they have achieved while doing nothing but fighting.
Their demonstration may have included their concern about our economy and the security they had established with difficulty, only to be destroyed relentlessly now and exposed naked to the enemy. They may sometimes feel frustrated with the democratic administrations, which did not give credit to the developmental forces while allotting favors among regions or uniting among “code-sharers.”
Their concern about the present Roh Moo-hyun administration’s identity, in particular, may have fanned their anger and resentment all the more ― such anti-market reforms as the controversies over the righting of historical wrongs, abolishment of the National Security Law and the transfer of the capital.
What significance, then, does the collective demonstration of the conservative forces have for the country? Their stated purpose was to oppose the abolishment of the security law. Is the continuation of the security law suitable for national security, and is its revision or abolishment a threat to national security? With the mentality of the Yushin, or revitalizing reform, era and the Fifth Republic, this could be true. But the times and situation have changed.
For inter-Korean reconciliation and cooperation, the time has come to change the tool of the past regimes that was used to suppress human rights. True conservatives should be able to apologize for misusing the security law for political oppression during the military dictatorships and reflect on their past.
Wasn’t it because of this attitude that the governing and opposition parties could come close on the revision of the security law to the extent that the opposition party leader advocated the renaming of the bill and eliminating the part on “assuming the title of government?”
But as the president argued for the abolishment of the law, the governing party returned to that position overnight and the opposition party to unconditional objection to abolishment. And no room was left for negotiation and compromise.
At this juncture, the gathering of hundreds of thousands of conservatives to oppose the abolishment is nothing to be proud of, nor any help for our future.
Adults should act like adults and conservatives, like conservatives. Staging a demonstration without alternatives just because they are treated coldly as hard-core conservatives and ignored by the political powers and the president can only be seen as nostalgia for past glory.
What is the true value of the conservative? It is to have rational thoughts and suggest realistic alternatives. If older adults swarm to shout for the same opposition that they used to denounce as “opposition for opposition’s sake” toward younger demonstrators under the past authoritarian regimes, they are not behaving like adults or conservatives.
If the democratization movement forces and the generation that devoted itself to economic development go on in their confrontation, staging demonstrations in front of City Hall by turns, our country has no future.
Of course, this could be the natural consequence of the Roh administration’s failure to combine the conservative and the liberal and embrace the democratic and development forces together. But the present administration’s responsibility is limited, whereas the responsibilities of the conservative and adult groups who should keep the country are unlimited.
The demonstration by conservative groups that was staged recently is enough. Instead of indulging in a useless collective war of attrition between the conservatives and the progressives, it is a far more responsible attitude for the conservative adults to hand down to the younger generation their wisdom of what to do for the development of our country and how to see farther and jump higher.
* The writer is the executive editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kwon Young-bin