[VIEWPOINT]Hope still exists for the rest of Roh’s termFinding light in absolute darkness and hope in despair is the wisdom of survival.
If we sink deep into darkness, life becomes too tiring. Let’s use this wisdom in Korea’s modern history, too.
We could deplore ourselves, saying, “Why are we always like this?” But we could also be proud of ourselves and say, “We’ve come a long way already.”
Ever since national independence in 1945, there has not been a single year in which the political situation has not been tumultuous.
Yet there is no other country that has achieved, in 60 years, the industrialization and democratization that Korea has.
That is why foreigners pick Korea as “the only country on Earth that looks down on Japan, and a strange country that is not aware of its own development and position in international society.”
The comments by people about the former presidents of Korea can not be said to be favorable.
However, they played a role in Korea’s historical development. We cannot think of the Republic of Korea as it is today if we omit the processes of national independence under the leadership of former President Syngman Rhee, the industrialization led by former President Park Chung Hee, the laying of a stepping stone toward democratization by former President Roh Tae-woo, the termination of the military regime by former President Kim Young-sam and the first transfer of power to the opposition party led by former President Kim Dae-jung.
Former presidents have also provided people with opportunities to vent their long-held grudges. Korean people could relieve their grudge over their lost country through former President Syngman Rhee, their grudge over starvation through former President Park Chung Hee, their grudge over the lack of democratization through former President Kim Young-sam, the grudge by Honam people over a lack of political power through former President Kim Dae-jung, and the grudge of the progressives and the left wing over a lack of political power through President Roh Moo-hyun.
Since these long-held grudges have now dissolved, it can be said that the basis for harmony and reconciliation has been provided.
Perhaps we could look at these aspects of our former presidents with more generous and forgiving viewpoints.
President Roh Moo-hyun is said to complain frequently about his critics, saying, “What have I done wrong?” according to people who have met him on informal occasions.
Of course, he may think the critics and their attacks are not fair to him. Mr. Roh’s political reform has succeeded to a certain degree.
In the beginning of the 1990s, or even in the early days of former President Kim Dae-jung’s administration in 1998, some National Assemblymen were elected after spending 5 billion ($5.3 million), 7 billion or even 10 billion won.
However, such practices are not at all possible today. Corruption and the abuse of power have not disappeared completely, but the truth is that they have been reduced immensely.
The economic report card that includes $300 billion in exports and a high stock price index which has exceeded the 1,400 mark is quite impressive, too.
Some may question whether the good economic record really is due a lot to the president, but we have rated the economic records of the previous presidents in the same manner. The president might be criticized less if he took pump-priming measures to lift the economy, but he instead tried to minimize the side effects. He also solved the problem of building radioactive waste facilities, which had been a pending issue of previous administrations.
Mr. Roh has been criticized for trying to deny past history entirely. However, he is no different from former President Kim Young-sam, who said, “Don’t leave out a single brick” during the demolition of the building which was used as Japanese colonial office in the old days and later turned into the National Museum of Korea, or former President Kim Dae-jung, who by taking the slogan, “a second nation building,” tacitly denied the legitimacy of the former administrations of the Republic of Korea.
Therefore, it is understandable that the president would think it unfair and say things like, “Why are people attacking only me?” and “Why don’t they judge my accomplishments?”
We are in an era in which everyone is criticizing President Roh. Even newspapers, broadcasting stations and the Internet media, to which President Roh gave special attention, are finding fault with the president.
There is no need to be upset or mad at them.
Didn’t President Roh once say, “The public sentiment embodied in history is different from the one expressed by the people every time.”
If the president believes that and wants a good rating in the context of history, he still has a way to go.
All he has to do is dedicate the rest of his term to the success of two national issues: the Korea-U.S free trade agreement negotiations and the national pension system reform.
If he holds on to political issues, such as amending the Constitution so the president can have a four-year term and be re-elected, he will lose everything.
Amending the Constitution may be a desperate problem for the president, but it is not high on the agenda for most people.
The Korea-U.S. free trade agreement will not cure all of the problems in our economy, but it is an inevitable choice if we are to survive in international competition.
Although potential national debt has accumulated at the speed of 80 billion won ($85 million) a day and 30 trillion won per year, previous administrations only played the game of passing the buck when it came to pension reform.
The president needs to put the success of his term on things like these. The president should get reports every day, supervise meetings on policy reform, request help from the National Assembly, persuade related organizations and appeal to the people.
If his sincerity is acknowledged, he will be able to get rid of any “misunderstandings” or “Roh Moo-hyun discounts” in a matter of seconds.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Du-woo