[OUTLOOK]The decade that lasted 26 years

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[OUTLOOK]The decade that lasted 26 years

President Roh Moo-hyun's approval rating has plummeted to 12.9 percent, according to a poll conducted recently. Some 63 percent of South Koreans say the country is now having a crisis.
Despite these numbers, core figures in the administration show no sense of insecurity or nervousness. They have no regrets about what they did to assume power nor what they have done since taking office. Instead, they look forward with hope to next year's presidential election.
That is understandable because they can still find some solace in public opinion, especially the fact that most people think the United States is to blame for North Korea’s nuclear test.
The administration may not completely disapprove of violent protests against the transfer of U.S. military bases and the pursuit of a free trade accord with Washington because it knows that anti-Americanism helps its cause better than a sense of crisis about national security. Besides, no matter how effective the messages offered by conservatives may be, the messengers who deliver them are losing the public’s trust.
Although the president's approval rating hover near rock bottom and the governing party was defeated in all 40 major and minor elections, they have one thing to fall back on -- memories from the 1980s. Since that time in South Korea, progressivism and egalitarianism have become the spirit of the age.
The 1980s is a symbol and a source of power for a liberal administration like President Roh’s. It functions as a sort of privileged exemption from liability that covers up the incapacity of this so-called progressive administration to avoid misrule and corruption.
In school history textbooks, there are chapters full of the thoughts and emotions which defined the 1980s. They include extensive coverage of anti-market theories and anti-American slogans.
As people have become accustomed to protests and strikes since the 1980s, our society has developed a greater tolerance for illegal acts.
Former student activists have transformed themselves into the backbone of our society and dominate many fields such as law, education, the media, publishing and even the market for private tutoring on writing essays for school exams.
There are also many bureaucrats and intellectuals who seek help from these former activists and try to ingratiate themselves to earn major positions or publicity.
Of course, great achievements from the 1980s cannot be denied or ignored. But what is regrettable is that some try to assume power and indoctrinate others with their ideology by taking advantage of this period.
The problem is that people who were involved in the 1980s democratic movement act as if they have been fully vindicated and that what they believe is incontrovertibly true, although Korea has had other difficult phases in its modern history.
Just as Jews became untouchable in European society after the tragedy at Auschwitz, a similar situation has taken place in our country since the Gwangju massacre in 1980. For South Korea, the 1980s seem to have lasted across three decades.
According to the historian Fernad Braudel, a long period of time is more important than a certain event or a temporary phase when it comes to forming the pillars of history.
If this is applied to our society, the current low approval rating of the president and comparatively weak political clout of the governing party might mean nothing when looked at against the big picture of the historical current in Korean society since the 1980s.
When progressives and leftists have become entrenched in government and anti-Americanism and self-reliance have become a common stance, it does not matter who is the president or which party is the governing party.
Now a wider view is needed to reflect on the long duration of the 1980s, in the interest of the country and social progress. The Roh administration’s disastrous failures prove that its ideology and convictions are not the right ones for the future of our country.
Now these leaders should abandon their old ideologies. That is the least they can do. The arbitrarily long duration of the 1980s aimed at lengthening their political life will ultimately make everybody miserable. If anyone ties themselves to the past, the past will also tie them, hindering growth and advancement.

*The writer is a professor of sociology, graduate school of environment studies at Seoul National University.


by Jun Sang-in
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