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Back to the people

Four major civic organizations, including the Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice and the Young Korean Academy, decided yesterday to implement massive reforms. They admitted with regret that civic organizations are in crisis because they have become politically charged and pursue agendas that are divisive and selfish. They also plan to draw up a charter to enforce social responsibility within their organizations, with a code of conduct for finance, political factions, decision making and management. We hope that civic organizations will be reborn as a consequence of this decision and will once more serve the people.
In any nation, civic organizations should monitor the wrongdoings of government and illuminate society’s problems. Korea’s civic organizations worked to fight injustice, such as corruption and environmental destruction, during the days of dictatorship and economic development. But since the country was democratized, many civic groups have been polluted by ambition, leaving many who cherished their achievements feeling disappointed.
Civic groups should be independent of that which they act as watchdogs, such as the powerful and companies, and should be open to participation by all citizens. And civic organizations must not seek power and become like a government body. But these days, many key figures in civic groups have become core members of powerful bodies such as the Blue House, the cabinet and committees so that civic groups are now known as the fourth power. Some even view civic groups as a place to seek power and success. Civic organizations have long received government subsidies. With that money, some of them stage illegal rallies. Some civic groups even ask for subsidies from the companies or industries that they are supposed to monitor. As ordinary citizens have withdrawn from such groups, it is natural that these groups are criticized for having no ordinary people among their members.
The taste of power and money is sweet. But civic groups should be free of these temptations and must work selflessly for the people. If they do, citizens will love them and will participate more actively and our democracy will prosper. The presidential election is to be held this year. Some civic groups might get engaged in ugly fights in the name of conservative or progressive forces in a bid to side with the powerful, but we hope the reform movement will spread into all civic organizations. That’s the only way to stop people worrying about the future of civic groups.
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