[OUTLOOK]Vote for the right reasonsKorea has gone through fast and drastic changes over the past 60 years. During this period, it has achieved a developed economy and democracy.
The time has come to look back on what we have lost in the course of this development.
For the past decades, we have lost our regard for the underprivileged, who have been left behind.
We need to remember that our social welfare system is very bad, particularly compared to our economic status.
The second thing we have lost along the way might be community life. I do not agree that Western society is individual-oriented while Eastern society is community-based.
After having lived in Germany for six years, I realized Western society was focused on community life.
I had a German friend in Dortmund who was a journalist. He lived in an apartment building that consisted of twelve apartment units.
The residents of the two apartments on the first floor were in charge of clearing any fallen leaves and shoveling snow. They also took responsibility for taking care of the front yard.
The residents living in the other ten units took turns cleaning the staircases. Each family in each unit did the job for one week. The staircases were always shining. There were pretty pot plants on the stairway and nice pictures hanging on the walls.
The residents had parties twice a year, one in the summer and the other at the end of the year. Each family brought food to the party and chatted with their neighbors.
When a family went on vacation, which would last for a month, they left their apartment keys with their neighbors in the same building. The neighbors watered their plants while they were gone.
In Dortmund, there is not a single commercial bowling alley. The city runs a bowling alley where groups of five or more can make a reservation and play for a low price.
Citizens who have organized a club for leisure or cultural activities can use an office for free and are even given some financial aid.
The German local governments support the community life that the citizens have organized and most people participate in one or two clubs, on average.
In Korea, it is easy to understand that communities in the true sense fell apart in the course of our rapid industrialization and urbanization. Compared to life in a Western city, living in Seoul is hectic and bleak.
Although there are monthly neighbor’s meetings, residents attend the meetings only to avoid fines. The primary interest among residents is usually how to increase the house prices in their neighborhood.
Is it too idealistic to dream of community life while living in the metropolitan city of Seoul? It is not, I suppose.
To me, losing such dreams of community life in a big city where most of the citizens live seems a more serious problem.
The most important thing is that all citizens should make an effort to revive community life with the help of their neighbors and colleagues. Local governments’ efforts are just as important.
The media pours out news items about the May 31 local elections, but citizens look at them without much enthusiasm or interest.
This is probably because people are skeptical about the achievements that local governments have shown for the past 15 years.
Central parties competing to win local elections is the general trend of the current campaigns. The local governments, which are supposed to labor for their communities, have been transformed into a fight arena for central power figures.
Judging from the campaigns for the upcoming local elections, the next four years of local autonomy will likely be the same as before.
That is, development of the area will be the top priority and heads of the local governments will manage the administration in a way to win over voters. Such heads will also hire or favor those who attended the same schools or were from the same origins.
On May 24, a union of 264 civic groups, which was formed to monitor the campaigns and the 2006 local elections, released its analyses on the candidates’ pledges. According to these data, the candidates seem to focus on development without sufficient consideration of its influences and show little interest in working for better communities.
If the heads of local governments do not work hard to create better communities, they will continue to build fancy buildings without much use or fill their offices with propaganda materials.
Citizens should not care about the central parties’ power struggle but vote for the right person who will make our dream of community life come true.
* The writer is a professor of history at Sungkyunkwan University.
by Chung Hyun-back
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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