[OUTLOOK]Regionalism an outdated callOne’s thoughts are expressed by one’s words. If a person has a bad or wrong thought, he or she tries not to say it. But if one is obsessed with that thought, one ends up saying it out loud. If someone says, “I am not thinking about an elephant,” a listener will think, “Oh, that person is certainly thinking about an elephant.”
When former U.S. President Richard Nixon was involved in the Watergate scandal, he said, “I am not a crook.” Naturally, Americans then believed that President Nixon was indeed a crook.
Former President Kim Dae-jung visited his hometown Mokpo, a port city in South Jeolla. He sang a famous Korean pop song titled “Tears at Mokpo Port” before a crowd and wrote the expression, “No Honam [Jeolla], no country.” He said “I would never intervene in politics,” but it sounded as if he was really saying, “My mind is full of thoughts about politics.”
President Roh Moo-hyun visited Gwangju. He said, “Nobody can succeed by using regionalism or regional conflicts.” This is more of a confession that “I figured out that only regionalism and regional conflict can guarantee success.”
When Mr. Kim assumed the presidency and was then followed by Mr. Roh, alleged discrimination against the Honam region was forgotten and regional wounds were healed. In this atmosphere, why did Mr. Kim promote regionalism by saying “I will live and die as a person from Jeolla province?”
These two men are the former and incumbent presidents of this country. They have the responsibility to take care of the entire country, but instead they encourage regionalism.
Why? Probably because it is unclear whether they can have a successor who shares their ideology elected as president in next year’s elections.
Or possibly because they have a common interest in the Sunshine Policy.
One thing that is clear is that they seek their driving force from the Honam region.
Politicians used to appeal to voters of the Honam region in the past as well. But that was different from what is happening now.
In the past, a candidate from Honam gained most of the votes in any elections in Honam. Back then, at least there were many who understood that. People regarded it as resistance or self-defense by citizens of Honam, who wanted to protect themselves from discrimination.
But things are different now. To cry for unity from Honam is a way to protect their privileged rights by arbitrarily choosing discrimination. Under Mr. Kim’s and Mr. Roh’s rule, the Honam people have enjoyed many benefits.
These two leaders are now sending a message to Honam citizens that they should keep electing a president who is from the region or who appreciates the region.
They are encouraging the Honam people to differentiate themselves from other citizens in other regions and to elect the next president from the Honam region. They promote regional divisions, instead of working to unify the people of the entire country.
Their approach to North Korea is the same. Honam has nothing to do with the Sunshine Policy. The Sunshine Policy is just a way to approach Korea’s reunification.
But the former president went to Honam and said, “Thanks to the Sunshine Policy, South Koreans no longer feel insecure even when North Korea conducts a nuclear test.”
Is Honam the only base for the Sunshine Policy? Would the people in Honam who are worried about the North’s nuclear weapons agree with Mr. Kim? North Korea’s nuclear issue is related to more than just Honam. It is related to the existence of the entire country.
In regard to this issue, the expression “No Honam, no country” is wrong. It should be “No country, no Honam.” If the Republic of Korea disappears, there will be no Honam either.
I wonder what decision Honam citizens will make. One thing is clear: The country should not go back to hazardous regionalism. The Honam people should make an appropriate decision.
For that to happen, presidential hopefuls should change their attitudes. Regardless of their political parties, they should present ways for the Honam people to participate in managing the country and the administration, as equally as people from other regions do.
Candidates should earn trust from people when running for the presidency. Whether a candidate is from the Democratic Party or from a new party, if the candidate has a base in the Honam region, he or she should show that he or she has overcome the dominance or influence of former President Kim.
Candidates should not remain quiet when the former president is trying to mislead the Honam people. If a candidate does nothing about this, it will be very hard to gain support from the entire country.
The political strategies of one or two people cannot pilot our entire politics. In particular, if the strategies go against the flow of history, they will be even more so because of the power of democracy.
Instead, I believe in the rationality of regular people. That is why Mr. Kim’s and Mr. Roh’s strategy to encourage regionalism will fail to gain enough support from the people.
*The writer is the chief editor of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Moon Chang-keuk