[OUTLOOK]Time to overcome fatigueI am not sure there is a disease called “democratization fatigue syndrome.” However, it is true that citizens are very jaded as the year end nears amid heavy snowfalls and cold weather. The nationwide fatigue is the result of an accumulation of various causes. Among those reasons, democratization is named the major cause of the fatigue syndrome because the discontent of many citizens with politics has increased even after democratization in the late 80s.
In fact, democratization fatigue syndrome is a highly contagious international epidemic. Once you have crossed the threshold of democratization, it doesn’t automatically guarantee a stable democratic system. The Third Wave of democratization, which was ignited by Spain’s successful escape from an authoritarian regime in1975, made the experiments of democratization possible in many regions from Eastern Europe through the former Soviet Union to Latin America and Asia.
Now, thirty years later, former Czech president Vaclav Havel hosted a meeting in Prague last month to review the worldwide democratization process. While the democratization of Eastern Europe was successfully completed in Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, the meeting participants agreed on the gloomy conclusion that democratization experiments in Russia and other former members of the Soviet Union, Latin America, Asia and Africa are facing serious obstacles and chaos, even deterioration and collapse in different magnitudes.
The democratization fatigue syndrome prevailing in many regions originates from a few common symptoms. A feeling of emptiness following the toppling of an autocratic regime; disappointment and discontent from expecting too much from democratization; the dogmatization of ideologies from pursuing utopia instead of specific policy purposes; fixation with struggle and lack of compromise; aggravation of inequality, such as the growing gap between the rich and the poor; and the failure to establish participatory and responsible politics can be commonly found in many countries after democratization. While Korea is highly regarded internationally as a model of success in both industrialization and democratization, discontent and disappointment are accumulating internally. How can we explain the fatigue most citizens are feeling today?
The successful democratization of Korea, accomplished following the June Resistance of 1987 and the June 29 Declaration, is now greatly challenged by the lack of national consensus on how to interpret the system formed in 1987 and polarization of politics. The majority of citizens welcomed the end of the authoritarian regime in 1987 and have accepted political democratization as an undeniable part of national development by actively participating in chances to make political choices, including voting in four presidential elections so far. Therefore, the citizens are concerned that the democratization of Korea is jeopardized by confrontation between the mainstream moderate democratization forces and minority radical reformists, rather than considering post-1987 politics as a contest between those pursuing democratization and those patronizing authoritarianism. In short, most citizens hope that democratization is not a process of settling the past but a course of compromise and integration for the future.
Nevertheless, citizens are tired because the self-righteousness and doctrinism based on the radical ideologies of the few are making democratic compromise and national integration hard.
Tension in Korea is elevating as politicians brand vested interests as the object to overthrow and ignore the basic principle of democratic politics that they actually have to be partners for compromise. If you have too much conviction in your belief or judgment and think that is reason enough to ignore the minority, democratization turns into an exhausting battlefield of survival. Most citizens are suffering from democratization fatigue syndrome as policies related to their daily lives ― such as addressing the growing gap between rich and poor and the decline of quality in livelihood and welfare ― are not prioritized over ideological issues such as a unification plan. We should never repeat the mistake of Maximilian Robespierre, who claimed during the French Revolution that the people did not know what their true interest was and he was the only one aware of it.
There is an old saying that people feel comfortable if a country grew big and prospered. It is time to focus on overcoming democratization fatigue syndrome and instead make people comfortable at heart.
* The writer, a former prime minister, is an adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Hong-koo
More in Columns
More good than harm
For balanced information intake
Room for alignment
A cautionary tale