[Outlook]An arrogant experimentThe locomotive of the Roh Moo-hyun administration is the so-called 386 generation who used to be democracy movement activists. They fought for democracy as college students. Those people took the lead when Roh ran for the presidency in 2002. Some of these supporters became advisors at the center of power. To put it precisely, they took power with Roh as their frontman.
After Roh was elected, they sent a letter and a gift to him. In the letter, they asked him to continue as their advocate. On Feb. 23, 2003, the day before the inauguration, Roh talked about the letter in a meeting with presidential secretaries. While reading the letter, he became choked up with emotion. Roh still consults with these former student activists who are now in government positions.
The influence of the 386 politicians has grown stronger. Their first target was to take power in the administration. Next was taking control of the National Assembly. Many of them were elected during the 2004 17th general elections, when some 60 former student activists became lawmakers.
As a result, those who used to criticize others became the ones who were criticized. But overnight success can have side effects. It took only a few years for expectations to become disappointments. They were active in appointing comrades who shared their ideology to posts in the government or state-run corporations. They created lots of populist policies. But nothing good happened and the people’s lives grew tougher. Their policies on reunification, foreign affairs, real estate, education, social polarization and job creation did not earn support from the people. Now they are working hard to push through a new policy to restrict journalists’ access to government sources. This policy is certain to be abolished next year.
Their experiments in running the country have cost us a lot. They often talked of self-reliance, peace, democracy and reunification but the values behind these slogans have been tarnished. Their incompetence has led to a crisis in the entire progressive group and they have become an arrogant, privileged class themselves. People have started to criticize them as “businessmen who made profits from democratization.”
A former presidential secretary said that when he was in the Blue House, outside pressure came from these former student activists-turned-politicians. Since Roh entered office, nothing could be done without going through the former student activists, so everybody worked hard to connect with them.
Recently, a scandal erupted involving a former student activist from Busan who had been a presidential secretary. It was learned that he introduced a construction executive to the head of a regional tax office and the latter received a bribe from the former and was arrested.
The incident was a sensation but the Blue House said it was not aware of the case for nearly one year. Now it says it does not need to investigate because the secretary has already resigned. The Blue House staff is being very tolerant, unlike the former student activists’ treatment of people outside their circle.
The former student activists in the Blue House say they can be criticized for lacking professional skill, but it is not tolerable if people accuse them of corruption. They claim they have never even had a traffic ticket but the Busan incident shows we need to check the former student activists to see if they are as clean as they claim to be.
In Korea’s history, evaluating the former power group has been a rite of passage, and the Roh administration will have its turn after the presidential and National Assembly elections. Politicians and their supporters know best who will remain in their positions and who will not.
There is one thing that needs to be examined during this evaluation. We need to know why the former student activists failed in their experiments. The reason must be analyzed in detail in order to reduce the errors of future administrations. That way, resources will not be wasted and the people won’t be divided. We have a long way to go. We can’t afford another administration full of arrogance and lacking in wisdom.
*The writer is the senior political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Gyo-joon