[Outlook]Democratization gone wrong

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[Outlook]Democratization gone wrong

It was 19 years ago when I started writing this column. At that time, the June uprising set off a strong desire for democracy, and the National Assembly hearings to uncover the truth around the Gwangju massacre were about to begin. An owner of a company pointed a hunting rifle at militant union workers.
Union workers drove a newly employed CEO out onto the street. A group of university students, asserting that one of their professors was not qualified, attacked him and shaved his head. When university students kidnapped a riot policeman, fellow riot policemen stormed the campus and wreaked havoc in classrooms and the library. In court, the accused, who would not accept a verdict, sprang onto the judge’s desk and tore down the verdict. Days started with one violent protest and ended with another. That was how things were in November of 1988.
At the time, I wrote a column titled “A small man’s tiny wish.” In that column, I wrote a synopsis of “Stories of Mr. Keuner,” a piece by the German playwright Bertolt Brecht. One day, a violent lion stormed into Mr. Keuner’s house and started to live there. The lion forced Keuner to attend to him. Without complaining, Keuner took care of the lion and obeyed it. The lion ate voraciously and slept day and night. It only gave orders and did nothing for himself. Finally it became too fat and died. Keuner wrapped the body with a blanket and threw it out. He then was able to let out what he always wanted to say, “I don’t like this.”
This fable sounded fit for Korea’s small people who had lived under a military dictatorship. But then, another type of violence prevailed in the street and workplaces. This threatened a majority of people who held their breaths because of the violent lion. We wanted neither a lion’s violence nor a rat’s violence. I wrote that we should not imitate the leftists and we should not incite them, either. If they want to tear down the houses that we finally managed to build, they could easily do so. I concluded that to live together peacefully and make small changes for the better was a tiny little wish of small people.
Nearly 20 years have passed. Right-wing democratic forces took power for five years and then left-wing democratic forces followed for 10 years. Things have changed. When the presidential hopefuls of the Grand National Party visit Gwangju, people no longer throw stones at them. The biggest change of all is that there are no massive protests by university students. Leaders of the democracy movement occupy top posts in the government. Former student activists who staged protests on the street entered the National Assembly and the Blue House.
As the left-wing administrations poured out whole varieties of self-proclaimed reform policies, the silent majority had to suffer nausea and repugnance. People became worse off rather than better off. There appeared families where all three generations are unemployed. It is hard for them to keep their homes. People are on the verge of living in the street.
Countless small people who did not ingratiate themselves with the new powerholders are holding their breath, feeling intimidated by the left-wing government that is wearing an armband reading “democratization.”
Things that might have occurred in the earlier stage of democratization are happening now among the country’s leaders. Just as the accused tore down the verdict, the president is abandoning the decision by the National Election Commission and submitting an appeal to Constitu-tional Court in the capacity of an individual citizen. The president is the top leader of the government so he must retain political neutrality. He must have discipline and show with restraint. A president who oppresses the media is nothing but a dictator.
The administration has pushed for the revised newspaper act. That is a bizarre law that shackles newspapers that are critical of the administration while granting limitless support to those in favor. As if that was not enough, the administration is working to streamline pressrooms in government offices. This is the result of the president’s hatred of newspapers that criticize him. Even 20 years ago, there were no such evil laws.
The left-wing government dichotomizes society in its attempts to sort out the target of hatred. It draws clear lines between haves and have-nots, the educated and the uneducated, forces in favor of the government and forces critical of it, and the powerful and the powerless. Giving a speech to some 150 university heads, the president characterized journalists, politicians and professors as the pompous powerful who wander around wearing armbands.
The president demanded university heads accept students from poor families as extra students on top of the limited number of regular students. Just as it is unreasonable to allow students from rich families to get in universities using financial contributions, it is ridiculous to allow poor students to get in schools just because they are from poor families. The tiny little wishes of small people who held their breath for two decades are now being replaced by despair and resignation. They are being oppressed by the leftists’ populism, the left-wing administration’s arrogance and a new type of dictatorship. When will their tiny little wish come true?

*The writer is a senior editorial advisor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kwon Nyong-bin
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