[Viewpoint]Can Koreans succeed like the Irish?Some say Koreans resemble Italians. Both love singing, be it canchone or a Korean pop song called ppongjjak, and they both exhibit enthusiasm in quick eruptions.
Others say Koreans feel a bond with the destiny of the Polish people, due to their similarly sour histories of violation by foreign powers.
Still others say the mirror of Korea is Finland, referring to their linguistic affinity with the Ural-Altai family instead of Indo-European tongues. Similarly, Korea shares with Finland an industrial national culture and high education rates; qualities evident in the Finnish national trait of sisu, denoting patience and perseverance; their love of saunas, and finally, the success stories of Nokia and Anycall.
But a scholar asserts that of all the European peoples, the Irish come closest to Koreans. Professor Park Ji-hyang of Seoul National University points out similarities between the two nations: the blind patriotism, the belief that their nation is the purest and the finest of all; the woeful sentiment that their history is the saddest and the most tragic of all; and the history of victimhood, lying next to a strong country. Drawn to Ireland first while majoring in English history, Professor Park asserts in her book, “Sad Ireland,” that just as the English people produced the image of the Irish as a white Negro, the Japanese created the image of the Korean as a monkey on two feet.
If you go to one of the numerous pubs in Dublin, the capital city of Ireland, you would immediately feel as cozy as if you were at a greasy liquor bar in Korea. From the cheerful atmosphere full of vibrant conversation and socializing lubricated with the dark beer Guiness, you may find faces like our own. In addition, the Irish people are inseparably entwined with England, but turn nationalistic when the issues touch on sentiments with the English. In that, you may see a reflection of the relationship between Korea and Japan.
If we have North Korea, they have Northern Ireland, both legacies of colonial rule.
But the comparison stops there. Ireland, previously located at the margins of Europe, now enjoys its newfound status as one of the wealthiest countries in Europe. The GDP per capita of Ireland recorded in 2005 was $48,900, the second largest, next to that of Luxembourg, of all 27 member countries of the European Union. The GDP per capita of Ireland has long surpassed that of the United Kingdom, $36,600. The Economist, the British weekly economic journal, listed Ireland at the top of all countries with the highest standards of living. The U.K. ranked 29th. On O’Connell Street, the high street of Dublin, stands the Spire, a 120-meter-high steel tower. The monument was completed in 2003, commemorating the New Millennium. It represents the miracle of the Celtic Tigers that went from being the sick man of Europe to being one of the most developed countries in the world within an incredible two decades. Last year, Ireland recorded 5.6 percent economic growth, the highest of all EU countries. The unemployment rate is 4.2 percent, half the EU average; this figure means full employment.
In the 2007 general elections in Ireland, the ruling party Fianna Fail won and Bertie Ahern, the Taoiseach of Ireland, equivalent to prime minister in the presidential system, secured a third term in office. A complete liberalization of the market and the dismantling of regulations; a proactive pursuit of foreign investment based on low taxation and many other incentives; the structuring of industry, education and human resources focused on knowledge-based industries such as information technology; cordial relations among labor, enterprises and the government based on a pact of social solidarity ― the list goes on ― all these are the result of popular support for a shared understanding to maintain the “Irish model.”
The Irish people shared the vision to become a small but prosperous and strong country by selecting and concentrating on what they can do best, and constructing a national strategy based on that vision. Grounded on popular agreement, Ireland implemented the strategy, united and harmonized. In short order, the Irish have overtaken their colonial patron, the United Kingdom, and rewritten their history to that of a Happy Ireland.
Professor Park remarks that the miracle of Ireland would not have been possible had the Irish people been confined to the view of Sad Ireland, although that image did provide self-consolation and a sense of moral superiority. The success was possible because they shattered the framework of self-confining perceptions. Will we, then, be able to achieve the same miracle and overtake Japan?
*The writer is an editorial writer and travelling correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Bae Myung-bok