[Viewpoint]An ‘oppressed generation’

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[Viewpoint]An ‘oppressed generation’

Koreans who attended universities in the latter half of the 1970s consider themselves the unfairly oppressed generation. Although their hearts were full of resentment against the dictatorship of former President Park Chung Hee, they could not even stage an anti-government demonstration. They were subject to immediate arrest and imprisonment for some years if they handed out even a couple of anti-government leaflets.
Even more disheartened, perhaps, were not the student activists themselves, but the students who had to watch in fear and helplessness as their friends were expelled from school and society arbitrarily. The choice left to them was either to evade the gloomy reality or to accept it.
The billiards arcades and pubs adjecent to universities were packed with students. And students sat around on campus killing time playing poker. For them, that was the way to escape the cruel reality, because they were denied the freedom to agonize over the reality by which they were surrounded.
They envied the dignified attitude of their seniors as well as the attitude of self-confidence that their juniors showed. They regret that they had no era of their own. Although the pain from their lost days on campus have been alleviated to a certain degree by the passage of 30 years, the wounds in their minds are still aching.
They still have the disposition of hesitating at critical moments, the residue of forced silence and resignation they were under during the Yushin regime of Mr. Park. This is a misfortune and loss to the whole nation, not limited to their generation only.
A controversy over making public the names of judges who were part of the panels that presided over trials related to the violators of the so-called Emergency Measures in the 1970s has flared up recently. Why does the unfairly oppressed generation watch the progress of the controversy with bitterness in their minds? Maybe it is because the attention is only on the violations of human rights and damage to the honor of those who joined hands with the offenders, rather than the wounds of their victims.
The emergency measures, the symbol of the Yusin dictatorship, are the problems destined to be revealed some day. For the complete transformation of our society to a democratic one, airing those problems is a necessity. If that is the case, how can we solve the problem of healing the wounds in the minds of the unfairly oppressed generation?
I think it proper that the conservatives who tied the knot untie it, because the main players of the Yushin dictatorship and the emergency measures were the conservative forces.
Now, the expectations of the people for the conservatives are at their height. The Grand National Party, the mainstream of the conservatives, enjoys an approval rating of 50 percent and has the best possibility of winning the coming presidential election. At the same time, the criticism of the people against populism and misrule by the self-proclaimed progressives is high and rough. An effort to resolve the problems related to the emergency measures and the Yushin dictatorship, which has become important on the national agenda, will provide an opportunity for the conservatives to demonstrate their real capabilities.
In the past, the weak point of Korea’s conservatives was their excessive defensiveness. Now they need to adopt a different way of thinking. If the conservatives make apologies for the damage caused by the Yushin dictatorship from their hearts, they can show their capacity to embrace and reconcile the whole community, transcending conflicting interests.
The moment the conservatives break their silence, the unfairly oppressed generation can also ease the unpleasant feelings they harbored toward the conservatives. With the passage of time, there will be space to accommodate confessions and reflections.
I wonder whether that could be the way that would facilitate the evaluation of the contributions the conservatives made to the establishment of the Republic of Korea and its era of industrialization. Self-renovation is an important part of conservatism advocated by Edmund Burke, a prominent 18th-century British political philosopher.
On the part of the progressives, too, driving the opponents to the far corner will not serve their purposes as long as reconciliation is their ultimate goal.
How nice would it be if the two rival sides cooperated in removing the residue of the emergency measures of Park Chung Hee that were legally nullified a long time ago, but still linger on in the minds of that unfairly oppressed generation.

*The writer is the head of the culture and sports desk of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Ha-gyeong
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