[Outlook]Riding out the storm

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[Outlook]Riding out the storm

I like storms. Tired of sand- storms, a king in the ancient Middle East sent his army to attack the storms’ origin. But if storms did not destroy houses and farms, a farmer wouldn’t feel the healing that comes with repairing a ruined rice paddy. Listening to thunder and pouring rain, he can calm and refresh his mind, preparing himself to welcome autumn. That’s the psychology of a storm.
The psychology of a storm can also be applied to Korea’s process of democratization since 1987. Strong reform waves formed outside political circles and changed them. As a result, new forces, political parties and ideologies were introduced, as well as a new map of politics.
That was also the reason why political parties had to keep changing over the past 20 years. The Grand National Party has changed three times, the Democratic Party four times and the Uri Party was created. The rearrangement of political parties is so complicated that it is hard to trace their lineages. But this isn’t all bad. A storm originating outside clears away waste that accumulated inside, and acts as a medicine to cure citizens’ disillusionment and disappointment with politics.
The eye of the storm was the generation that went through the April 19 Movement, the military dictatorship, the Gwangju massacre and civil unrest. In the last presidential election and general elections, the storm was so strong that it turned the political arena upside down.
But nothing of this kind is happening for this year’s presidential election. There is no generation of activists that is deeply involved in politics. Some will be pleased to see that former Uri Party members are not doing well and will welcome this as the extinction of a generation of activists. But if new resources are not injected, the possibility of political parties suffering from arteriosclerosis and autism increases, leaving people feeling frustrated and disappointed.
A generation of activists has become extinct because the new generation’s interest has transferred from politics to culture, consumption and style. As the pace of the young generation increases, words like ideology, nationality or class struggle do not evoke responses. It is hard to mobilize warriors to give up their lifestyles and jump into a civic movement.
Those in the former generation of activists have turned 40 or so, and can no longer avoid the responsibility of supporting their families.
The extinction of a generation of activists means that a storm to clear away waste in political arenas is not coming. This is part of the reason that after going through all processes that political parties can possibly go through ― separation, departure, merging, disbanding and re-creation ― those who left and those who stayed had to find a way to work together again.
So voters have no special feelings for or interest in a party primary in which contenders who do not have special reasons to belong to the same party compete against one another. There is no sincere confession of past wrongdoing, but contenders shout for justice anyway. Looking at their faces, voters feel sick and tired instead of moved. Contenders in the party primary wear all kinds of facial expressions, such as solemn, tired, awkward and irritated looks. They may shout for some causes, but they do not move the people. The new party’s name includes such words as “unified” and “new” but the people do not know what they are going to do that is new.
Things are not much different for the Grand National Party, which has survived for 10 years. Desperation to regain power prevented the party from being divided, and it is questionable if the party has sufficient capacities to assume power. People wonder if the structure and ideologies of the party are old-fashioned and if senior members block the entrance for newcomers.
We wonder if the party supplies policies to keep pace with its candidate, Lee Myung-bak. What is his world view and how is he going to change Korea-U.S. relations if elected?
For the entire three weeks after he earned the party nomination at the primary, he did not present any blueprints to the people. He should have appeared on the front pages every day, but reporters haven’t caught much. After wasting three weeks, he finally recently presented a new blueprint for development. But it is similar to the plans that presidential candidates presented five years ago. Does he have any plans at all to satisfy the people?
Is he going to leave controversial government policies on irregular workers, education and real estate taxes in place? Or is he going to change them? The opposition cannot be sure that people will vote for the party’s candidate no matter what, but it still hasn’t presented any clear vision. That is why we are missing a storm that will never come again.

*The writer is a professor of sociology at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Song Ho-keun

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