[Viewpoint]Lee's new eraThe period from July 17 to Aug. 15 is extremely meaningful this year. It is the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Korea. The Constitution was enacted on July 17, 1948, and the democratic government of the Republic of Korea was launched officially on Aug. 15 of the same year. If we could go back to those days, we would probably feel the passion of building the nation day-by-day.
The significance of establishing the government cannot be emphasized enough. We fought against Japan’s colonization and longed for liberation with all our hearts because we wanted an independent government.
Those who lived in the summer of 1948 probably had complicated feelings. They probably felt extremely proud to be building an independent republic, but leaving the task of unification to the future must have been painful. Because the governments of South and North Korea were established in line with the dictates of the expanding Cold War in Northeast Asia, what awaited Koreans were a cruel war and the division of the nation.
Regardless of the circumstances, we should never undervalue the meaning of our country’s establishment. It allowed us to introduce modern systems and customs in our society. After the industrialization of the 1960s, Koreans moved forward to democratization in the 1980s.
This year, our society faces a door that leads to a new era, following the periods of industrialization and democratization.
The problem is that the circumstances in the nation and abroad are not that bright at this important moment. Korea’s relations with the United States and Japan are not smooth, and neither are inter-Korean relations.
Furthermore, we face more serious problems within. While we wanted the Lee Myung-bak administration to usher in a new regime in 2008 that could overcome the limits of the 1987 regime while respecting its achievement of democratization, the Lee administration is still lost in the dark. The worsening economic crisis is also casting dark clouds.
As we look back, a sort of governance crisis has continued in our society since the local elections of June 2006. The previous President, Roh Moo-hyun, pushed his trademark policy of populism throughout his term, disregarding the repeated defeats of his party in the polls. People see self-righteousness in the new Lee administration as successor of that type of governance. It is ironic that the Lee administration is succeeding in the areas of work that Lee has struggled to get rid of.
Of course, the Lee administration has its excuses. It is probably sympathetic with the Roh government’s hardships of running a nation where the people’s opinions were widely divided.
However, a united society is not a given. It is a goal that a government must achieve.
The reason for a government’s existence in any society is to mend ruptures and unite people.
There are two lessons that we should keep in mind for the 60th anniversary of our republic.
First, any government must have an accurate understanding of the spirit of the era in which it operates. The spirit of our time calls for economic recovery. We want to move into the era of advancement, following industrialization and democratization. The plummeting approval rating for the Lee administration comes from the fact that it seems to be pouring all its time and energy into reallocating political power rather than reviving the economy.
Starting with recovery for the middle class, which has been brutally damaged by skyrocketing prices, the Lee administration faces numerous short- and long-term tasks. For one, the nation has to choose what development model it will pursue in this era of globalization.
What the majority wants is a society where people can improve their standards of living in a fairly even manner, regardless of ideology. Thus the government must come up with a plan to reinforce competitiveness and improve social equity at the same time and present it to the people.
Second, there are no leaps in history. The lesson learned from the 60th anniversary of the Republic of Korea is that there would have been no democratization if the nation did not achieve industrialization, and there will be no advancement without democratization.
The Lee administration probably knows by now what it should engage and what it should reject from the policies of the preceding administrations ranging from North Korea policy, balanced national development, human rights and more.
Demonstrating economic ability while keeping an eye on the lessons of history is the impending task of the Lee administration.
*The writer is a professor of sociology at Yonsei University.