[Viewpoint]Spirit of the times calls for hope, visionBetween the Park Chung Hee administration that began in 1961 through the current administration of Roh Moo-hyun, Korea has experienced two major periods shaped by zeitgeist, the spirit of the times.
One was the goal of becoming rich.” It was the spirit of modernization and industrialization. The nationwide Saemaeul Movement, or New Community Movement, was launched and thatched roofs were replaced with slate roofs or better materials. A “buy Korean” campaign was launched, and people who smoked foreign-brand cigarettes were arrested. Teachers even checked the percentage of barley in students’ lunch boxes to save precious rice.
On Arbor Day, civil servants, soldiers and students headed for the mountains with chopsticks in search of caterpillars that were harmful to trees. Companies and universities all did as they were told by the government. That campaign went on for almost 20 years.
In retrospect, it seems silly: How could people live like that? However, President Park’s pledge ― to end the 5,000-year old history of poverty within our generation ― had a strong appeal. Moreover, he accomplished the goal successfully. This is the reason why many people in their 50s and older have “Park Chung Hee nostalgia.” They had accomplished the zeitgeist.
The second zeitgeist burst out dramatically in 1987. It was the spirit of resistance to achieve the political freedom and economic justice that were restricted during Park’s rule.
People called it the democratization movement. It was symbolized by the “June 10 democratization struggle in 1987” and the “Great struggle of the workers” that followed. Of course, the change in the zeitgeist was accompanied by much pain. Since the democratization movement in 1987, the debate in our society has been dominated by the values of democratization. And the spirit of Park Chung Hee’s modernization is left unheeded in a deep corner of the closet, like an out-of-fashion item of clothing.
Exactly 20 years have passed since the launching of “the democratic regime of 1987.” It may have both its merits and demerits, but the historical evaluation will be made by historians of future generations.
However, one thing is clear. As the baton was passed from the spirit of modernization to democratization, a new spirit of the times is now preparing to take the place of democratization.
The signs of change have already started to appear here and there. They appear along with the social phenomenon in which people feel sick and tired of the groups, organizations and political communities that shout out for democratization.
First, there is a change in the labor movement. People were afraid when the great struggle of the workers started in 1987, but they also empathized with the slogans of the workers at the time. It was a fight for the right to survival after a long period of oppression. After that, the rights and interests of trade unions increased greatly with the progress of democratization.
For some unknown reason, however, people’s aversion toward the unions grew with the passage of the time.
The Metal Workers’ Union, with a membership of 140,000, went on strike on Monday. The reason for the strike is that they are against the Korea-United States free trade agreement.
However, the reaction of the public is cold. People are saying, “They stage strikes because they are no longer hungry.” Not very many people think the union at Hyundai Motor Company, which goes on strike frequently for miscellaneous reasons, and public enterprises, which are called God-given work places, belong to the socially weak.
The change is not limited to the labor sector. The student movement has been the vanguard of social change in the 1980s. However, it is getting difficult to find student activists in universities these days. More than 70 percent of university students in a recent opinion poll said, “I would choose economic development over democratization.”
It’s all because of the same reason: The approval rating of President Roh Moo-hyun, who once received enthusiastic support, does not go beyond the 20 percent level, and the Uri Party is obliged to follow him to dissolution.
All these appear to be related to the fact that the spirit of the times, democratization, has concluded its historical duty.
The Republic of Korea has sprinted without stopping for breath since national liberation. It sometimes stumbled, but it always got up again and walked up until this moment.
Some people speak deprecatingly of our modern history, but it is in fact a success story that the whole world very much envies.
In our 5,000-year history we have never lived more proudly than now. This year is a presidential election year. As we have passed the era of modernization and democratization, the next president has to open a new era for the 21st century.
The new president has the duty of making the republic an advanced country, overcoming the stormy seas of globalization.
What the people want to see is hope and vision for the future, not mud slinging among politicians.
*The writer is the senior city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Chong-hyuk
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