[OUTLOOK]Koreans can also learn from TurkeyIt takes a 12-hour flight to get to Istanbul from Incheon International Airport. Neon signs at Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul are vividly visible through the windows of the airplane arriving at 11 p.m. The sight brings mixed emotions.
Ataturk is the honorary title of Mustafa Kemal Pasha, the first president of Turkey. Turkey’s national parliament conferred on him the title, which means “founding father.”
This brings to mind our former presidents, who are all treated with cold contempt. How much longer will it take for Korea to have a president of whom we can be proud enough to name an airport after him?
The Turks honor their first president with the utmost respect. All denominations of the local currency bear his portrait and numerous memorial halls and statues around the nation, including his mausoleum in the capital city of Ankara, pay tribute to the memory of Kemal Pasha.
All the clocks in the opulent Dolmabahche Palace, which was used as a temporary residence during his stays in Istanbul, point to 9:05 p.m. to memorialize the time when he passed away.
Even with Kemal Pasha’s decisive role in the founding of modern Turkey, it must not have been easy to maintain the high public regard for him throughout the country’s political turmoils during the past 60 years.
There is no doubt that Kemal Pasha had his share of weak points. But Turkey has decided to close the book on his shortcomings and focus on celebrating his accomplishments in honoring him as the nation’s founding father.
Anyone who has visited Turkey can sense that Korea has accomplished something significant without recognizing it. It can be a little confusing for some after hearing about all the shortcomings in Korea’s contemporary history.
The Turkish, however, frequently talk about Koreans and our achievements and stress that they must learn from us. Despite gaining independence 30 years ahead of Korea and having a headstart in planning for economic development, Turkey’s economy and national income level equal only about half that of Korea.
The strong won has brought an increased number of Korean tourists to Turkey recently. In the shopping quarters of Istanbul, you can hear shopkeepers yelling in Korean from time to time, “Ten dollars. It’s a bargain.” One shopkeeper told me that he is trying to learn Korean and showed me his textbook. This reminded me of the scenes that I saw while visiting China last year. The Chinese also envied the Korean tourists and were busy benchmarking how Korea has become the nation that it is today through its development policies.
Modern-day Turkey and China were both once huge empires. There are traces at the Forbidden City in Beijing that prove Korea was treated with more respect than other remote nations due to its proximity. But there is no such evidence at the Dolmabahche Palace, where the Turkish sultan greeted foreign envoys.
When President Roh Moo-hyun visited Turkey last year, however, the Turkish government rendered him the utmost hospitality while asking Korea to increase investments there.
Who would have imagined that a small country from the East would receive such a warm reception from the descendants of the Ottoman Empire?
Not only is Korea receiving such treatment from formerly great nations, but 21st-century powerhouses are also treating Korea with respect. This is due to the extraordinary economic development that the nation has achieved since its founding.
Never in Korea’s history has the nation received such respect from other countries, and there are times when we worry if Korea has already reached its peak.
In Istanbul, which was once Eastern Rome, there are many magnificent palaces and remains of large coliseums. These are what were left by foolish emperors who dallied with populism and eventually saw the empire collapse.
Near the coliseum is a small fountain named “The German Fountain.” It was a gift from Germany’s Wilhelm II to win Turkey’s favor as he tried to increase Germany’s influence in the East.
Eventually, Turkey took sides with Germany during World War I and later saw its empire vanish after losing the war. This example shows the importance of choosing the right side in the complicated game of international politics.
These days, Turkey is showing a flexible diplomatic stance and is taking advantage of its Bosphorus Strait.
Mr. Roh compared Turkey to “a large airplane rising steeply after take-off,” during his recent visit.
Turkey is straining to make another historical leap. Seeing the grand relics throughout the nation, one is reminded of the rules that determine the rise and fall of nations.
Korea certainly is not an exception from the rules.
* Columnist for JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by JoongAng Daily staff.
by Choi Woo-seok