[OUTLOOK]Look to Libya for a solutionA special opera is now playing in the Coliseum theater in London’s West End. “Gadhafi, A Living Myth,” by the English National Opera, is the season opener this fall. Having the current leader of a country as a hero of an opera is an unusual idea. The director mixed modern opera, pop music, African folk music and European modern dance, and audiences have been mesmerized.
The opera covers the rugged modern history of Libya from 1969, when the 27-year-old military officer Muammar Gadhafi took power in a coup, to the modern period when Libya gave up its weapons of mass destruction and returned to international society as a normalized country. The focus of the opera is on the moments when Mr. Gadhafi made difficult decisions in the course of his dramatic transformation from confrontation and conflicts with the Western world, including the United States, into compromise and reconciliation.
Mr. Gadhafi, who was once called the “mad dog of the Middle East” by former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, has risen to become the hero of an opera. Believing in pan-Arab nationalism and Islamic socialism, he has done everything for anti-Americanism, anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism and anti-colonialism.
His regime was held accountable for countless international terrorist attacks, including financing the Black September plotter who carried out the Munich massacre during the Olympic Games in 1972, and the 1986 bombing of a Berlin nightclub popular with U.S. servicemen. His regime was also involved in the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am flight and the 1989 destruction of a UTA flight. With his conviction that physical power must be deterred by physical power, his regime accelerated its nuclear development and came close to producing nuclear weapons.
Due to these attempts, the regime suffered, however. In 1986, the United States conducted air strikes, almost killing Mr. Gadhafi and taking the lives of about 60 civilians, including his step daughter.
Although the country’s petroleum reserves are the largest in Africa, the development of oil fields and the export of oil were blocked by the United Nations economic sanctions on the country, which started in 1993 and lasted 10 years.
The country’s foreign assets were frozen and its transactions of goods and finances were stopped during the period, severely damaging Libya’s economy. As the country was isolated politically and economically, the jobless rate surged to up to 30 percent and prices skyrocketed by 50 percent every year. But that’s history ― in 2004, the United States lifted economic sanctions on Libya and normalized ties. Since then, investors have been coming to the country. Thanks to reform measures, such as liberalizing the economy and privatizing state-run companies, coupled with increased oil prices, the country’s actual growth rate was 8.5 percent last year. Its economy is rapidly reviving.
In December 2003, Mr. Gadhafi declared that he would voluntarily abandon all types of weapons of mass destruction. All equipment and facilities were disassembled and shipped to the United States. He volunteered to have his country visited and monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency. He did exactly as the United States wanted him to.
But this does not mean he became utterly powerless. The domestic base for his political power still remains firm. He acts with confidence internationally and argues that the United States, China and other superpowers should abandon weapons of mass destruction, just as Libya did. He intends to improve U.S.-Libya relations based on the principle of equality, not on the principle of power. That allows him to demand an apology and compensation from Washington for its 1986 strikes.
Mr. Gadhafi saved his country and his regime by making brave decisions. As a result, Libya is writing a history of hope. His decisions are good examples of what leaders need to do. Korea’s Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook plans to visit Libya next week. She can persuade Mr. Gadhafi to visit both South and North Korea and meet the North’s leader Kim Jong-il.
Both are the same age and they seem to have similar characteristics. If the two leaders met and opened up their minds, a breakthrough could be made. Mr. Kim might also become the hero of a “living myth.”
* The writer is an editorial writer and traveling correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Bae Myung-bok