[Outlook]A return to rationalityTwo weeks ago, I moderated a candlelight vigil seminar held by a religious group. Most of the participants spoke highly of the young people who initiated the peaceful demonstrations. When a question and answer session began, a young man raised his hand and cried, “Grown-ups have distorted the innocence of the youth. We will never join candlelight vigils again.” In that moment, the atmosphere at the seminar iced over.
It’s true that the younger generation has disappeared from successive protests. Their voices can’t be heard over the loud political slogans such as “Lee Myung-bak out.” Their cause was simple. They came out to protest against the Lee Myung-bak administration’s quick fix approach to amending the problems stemming from its silly negotiations with the United States.
The Lee government was reportedly going to attempt to use a future surplus of U.S. beef for school meals. The youth didn’t want to be regarded as objects that can be manipulated by adults. Their demonstrations were a reasonable attempt to change such wrongful old practices.
If the government had said, “No matter how difficult it may be to prevent, young people will never be fed dangerous beef,” these youths might have expressed their confidence, saying, “We appreciate it. Please put forward your best efforts to prevent such things from happening.”
Since this didn’t happen, it was natural that they voiced strong objections against the government, carrying candles representing their resistance. Their candles might have been weak to start with, but they spread like wildfire. Their presence became a dominant force.
However, the response from political circles was a series of disappointing remarks such as “Who is pulling the strings of these innocent youths from behind the scenes?” Hearing this, young people began to argue, “We didn’t want our protests to turn out like this.”
Of course, they were also disappointed to see who took over the candlelight vigils that they had initiated. Even though this new set of people held candles, their minds were not as pure as the youths who had started the movement. Opposition parties who had no confidence in opening the National Assembly, civic groups who attempted to jump on the bandwagon and labor unions who were seeking to justify their strikes reflected their own interests in the vigils.
Therefore, any vestige of innocence that the candlelight vigils may once have had has already vanished from our minds. Instead, we will only remember aggressive actions by protesters who fought against the police. This was not what our children, our brothers and sisters wanted.
Every adult generation is responsible for killing the dreams of the young. A candle is a humble metaphor, intended to point out problems rooted in the unilateral moves of older generations. However, that exact type of unilateral communication blew out the candles.
Now, the best solution for political circles would be to answer the questions raised by these young people, with a view to tackling the current chaotic state of affairs. We do not see conducting additional negotiations with the U.S. as the most appropriate way to cope with such a crisis.
With their actions, young people were just looking for some real communication.
However, is such resistance limited to the youth? Perhaps a majority of people who joined the candlelight vigils might have been unhappy with the government’s unilateral approach to communication. This dissatisfaction eventually resulted in the U.S. beef import controversy.
“There are two groups of patriots in Korea. One consists of people who believe they are trying to protect the public’s health by carrying candles at Seoul City Hall Plaza in opposition to the U.S. beef imports. The other is made up of people who accomplish their mission in their workplaces and believe that our economy can only be revitalized after successfully completing the free trade agreement negotiations.”
When the leader demonstrates such an attitude, the people, far from having a black or white perception of the world, will naturally have the wisdom to know which direction to go.
We live in an era that needs rational decisions more than ever.
The national leader must encourage the people to reach rational decisions, rather than feeling bitter against the passionate voices in the streets.
*The writer is a professor of journalism at Sungkyunkwan University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Jeong-tak