[VIEWPOINT]Hopefuls are taking Germany lessonsKorean politicians who want to run in the presidential election next year are busy learning from Germany. First of all, Chung Dong-young, former chairman of the Uri Party, visited Germany in the middle of July.
He stayed there for two and a half months and reached the conclusion that South Korea should pursue “the new middle road.” This reminds us of “Das Neue Mitte,” or “the new middle,” that former Chancellor Gerard Fritz Kurt Schroeder of Germany introduced.
The former chairwoman of the Grand National Party, Park Geun-hye, also visited Germany toward the end of September. She met Angela Merkel, the first female chancellor of Germany, and exchanged views on the German unification process, discussing how to achieve the unification of Korea.
Most recently, the former mayor of Seoul, Lee Myong-bak, received the baton from Park Geun-hye. He left on a tour of three European countries, including Germany, on Sunday. Once there, he toured the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal to finalize his plan for the construction of a Seoul to Busan canal, his public pledge if elected president.
Of course, this is not the first time Korean politicians have learned from Germany. Former President Park Chung Hee was the first who tried to learn about Germany, which is located far from Korea but is familiar to Korean people. His economic development plan, praised as his biggest administrative achievement, was mostly copied from German examples. It actually received a lot of help from the country, too. Mr. Park introduced the Saemaeul Movement, a new community movement, after seeing the agricultural villages of Germany. He also planned to construct highways as he raced over the Autobahn.
Former President Kim Dae-jung got the idea for the Sunshine Policy and an inter-Korean summit meeting from the Ostpolitik and the unification policy of Germany. He announced a “Berlin declaration,” which is related to the reconciliation and cooperation between North and South Korea, right before the 2000 summit. The present government under President Roh Moo-hyun looked to Germany as a model for their various distribution and welfare policies.
Germany has now become a mandatory destination for Korean politicians, especially those who dream of becoming president. Former Prime Minister Goh Kun will also find it difficult not to visit Germany sooner or later.
Germany is a country from which we can learn a lot. More than anything else, it accomplished unification after being turned into a divided country. It survived the after-effects of unification, but it is still playing the role of locomotive for the European economy as its economy has started to recover recently.
It has a very well-organized social safety net that can not be compared to that in South Korea in terms of welfare and wealth distribution. This is why people, regardless of whether they are progressives or conservatives, can learn much from Germany.
So I have a word to say to the presidential hopefuls: Don’t see the crust of things, but look deep inside them in Germany.
First of all, I hope Chung Dong-young, former chairman of the Uri Party, and other progressives figure out what the “new middle road” of Mr. Schroeder really means. Mr. Schroeder came to power with the support of the left wing, but he spearheaded the move of “labor union bashing.” That is Mr. Schroeder’s “new middle road.” His “betrayal” is largely instrumental in Germany’s current economic recovery. Can Mr. Chung betray his own supporting foundation head-on?
The former chairwoman of the Grand National Party, Park Geun-hye, should not stop at feeling solidarity with Angela Merkel, because they both studied engineering and Ms. Merkel is the first female chancellor. When the Christian Democratic Union found itself in a crisis, she saved the party with her greater ability to coordinate and reconcile conflicts and greater endurance than male politicians.
She visited the United States frequently as the leader of an opposition party and worked for her country’s interest when relations with the United States began to deteriorate during the Schroeder administration. Where did Park Geun-hye go while the South Korea-U.S. relations deteriorated this badly?
Lee Myong-bak should not just look at the canals. There is a lot more to take note of as an economist, including the distribution system of goods, roads and railways, and also things like labor-management relations and the privatization of national companies, such as the railway and postal services.
All in all, the main reason why these people visit Germany is probably to create an image of a “unification president.” However, there is one thing they should not misjudge. That is that the unification of Germany started from the democratization movement of East Germany. West Germany supported the East in various ways until unification was achieved. But West Germany attached preconditions, such as the improvement of human rights and other similar things. Citizens of East Germany watched West German TV broadcasts and they were allowed to pass freely from the East to the West and vice versa.
A focus should also be put on the fact that the East German military threw up the white flag of surrender. After unification, the people of West Germany were angry about the increased taxes due to more than 2,000 trillion won ($2.1 trillion) that poured into East Germany.
Will we be able to do the same? If not, I want to give some bitter counsel: We should stop romanticizing over unification.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Yoo Jae-sik