[VIEWPOINT]A rekindling of identity politics

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[VIEWPOINT]A rekindling of identity politics

The remarks by Professor Kang Jeong-koo on the Korean War have had widespread repercussions.
As Gyeonggi province Governor Sohn Hak-gyu pointed out, this incident could be nothing but a “tempest in a teacup” where an “eccentric” intellectual made an “illogical interpretation” of Korea’s modern history. So why has the reaction been so wild?
In my opinion, this is because Professor Kang’s remarks rekindled the national identity politics that have been developing since the present administration took office.
I also predict that these national identity politics will end up delivering a blow to each political faction. More than anything else, I am concerned about the possibility that these identity politics may bring great harm to the future of Korea at a higher level, not just at the level of a division in national opinion.
The new political force that seized an opportunity to emerge in the presidential election in 2002 is trying to justify its existence by digging out and denying the past. In the process of disclosing past affairs, the issues of national division, the Korean War and the existence of North Korea surfaced at the forefront.
Political confrontation surrounding the interpretation of the significance of these issues has evolved into national identity politics about the characteristics of the Republic of Korea. But the present national identity politics failed to read the people’s hearts that it wished to win over. To the contrary, such politics will be estranged from their hearts and have a harmful influence on national development. Why is it so?
The other side of a national identity is the identity of the people. Identity of the people refers to the psychological propensity of individuals that identifies their fate with the fate of their country. People who have a strong identity as a nation take state affairs to be their own, take care of them and devote themselves to the development of their country. As such, a country with a strong identity among its people as a whole is steady internally and vibrant externally.
According to a recent survey published in the JoongAng Ilbo on Oct. 13, Korean people’s identity as a nation was very high. This is thanks to Korea’s long history as a single nation and sense of ownership toward the country, which has been greatly heightened since the country achieved democracy.
This is one of the reasons I am optimistic about the future of our country. Such characteristics as loving and showing loyalty to the country reflect a national identity.
What type of country do people picture to themselves? The superiority or inferiority of an individual is a matter of relativity. In other words, it is defined in comparison to others. The same goes for a country. A country of which we are not ashamed and which we can proudly introduce to others is what our people want to see. The criteria are, naturally, global standards.
In defining a national identity today, what are the global standards? They are liberal democracy and a capitalist market economy. This is not because Francis Fukuyama contended that in his book “The End of History,” but because better-off countries have adopted such systems and worse-off countries pursue them.
The country farthest from global standards is North Korea. To the people, North Korea is an object of shame, never an object of admiration. The attempt of liberal factions to redefine our country’s identity in the light of North Korea will never win the people’s hearts. Conservative factions that are entangled in such an anachronistic political offensive are not much different either.
The political situation is already heated up over the next presidential election. If a third political force emerges with a national vision and specific roadmap based on global standards, the existing forces that stick with the past are destined to fall.
Or, if one of the existing forces in the political strife first proceeds toward the future by turning their focus from the past to the future, that force will be the winner in the next presidential election. If the present nondescript political situation continues as it is, the people will seek psychological stability by denying their identity with such a situation.
Then, the identity of the people will weaken and distrust of politics and cynicism will increase. As the identity of the Korean people weakens, more people will “rather want to emigrate to other countries.” Politicians who claim to lead our country are ruining it.

* The writer is a professor of international relations at Chung-Ang University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Tae-hyun
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