[Viewpoint]Politics of balance

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[Viewpoint]Politics of balance

After a breakneck run through spring and summer, Korean society is resting during the Beijing Olympics. The nation celebrates news of victory day after day.

The Olympics provide an opportunity for Koreans to remember the meaning of homeland. Surveys have shown that Koreans are extremely proud that their homeland makes sports headlines.

An individual’s identity naturally overlaps with that of the nation, and the Olympics in particular has very strong patriotic appeal.

Some worry about the shadow of nationalism. They say nationalism can restrain individual freedom. And in comparison to other countries, nationalism is particularly strong in Korean society.

The historical experience of losing control of their country and the experience of becoming an economic power through industrialization unconsciously internalized the importance of country to Koreans.

And yet, we must be more generous. Whether it is an individual player or a team, it is entertaining to see competitors putting forth their best efforts.

If Koreans are touched and encouraged by confident and beautiful competition, and they take a rest in this sweltering weather, that alone is meaningful.

I see both sides of globalization in the Olympics.

On one side, the Games emphasize mutual dependence and standards. On the other, nationalism explodes as countries compete.

The slogan of the Beijing Olympics is “One World, One Dream.” At the same time, evidence of China’s ambition to become a superpower fighting for hegemony with the United States is everywhere.

In Korea, candlelight vigils have shown that globalization has already penetrated our lives.

The demand for renegotiation of the beef import deal was not an issue that could be solved domestically because the partner was the United States.

Members of the Internet community “Lemon Terrace” gained prominence for attending the U.S. beef rallies with their babies in strollers. Such a phenomenon shows that Korean dinner tables have become directly linked to issues of international trade.

That is only a fraction of the story. Skyrocketing international oil prices, global warming and lonely Korean fathers who send their families overseas for education demonstrate that Korean society has grown beyond traditional territorial borders.

We must acknowledge that our lives have situated us in the midst of deterritorialization and reterritorialization.

The process of deterritorialization and our everyday lives are directly connected to globalization, and patriotism sometimes explodes during the course of reterritorialization.

And yet, our politicians, those responsible for leading Koreans in the era of globalization, are still immature.

Looking to the past, the Kim Young-sam administration first advocated Korea’s participation in globalization. The administration was so ambitious that it spelled globalization “segyehwa” after the Korean pronunciation of the word’s translation, but what awaited Koreans instead was the financial crisis.

The Kim Dae-jung administration put its best efforts and energy into overcoming the crisis.

Surprising its supporters, the Roh Moo-hyun administration showed an attitude for global engagement, concluding a free trade agreement with the United States. Such an attitude was also a subject of debate among Koreans.

The issue boils down to this: The Korean government and Korean politics lack political imagination when it comes to globalization.

While globalization is complex, Korean politicians are reacting in an old-fashioned “analog” way. They are either extremely friendly to globalization or extremely hostile.

The globalization of politics has already penetrated the core of our society, as we can see from the anti-U.S. beef rallies and China’s ambitions. That is why Korean politicians must take a “digital” approach to opening the country and achieving globalization. They must find a productive union of competition and social unity.

As I watch the Olympic Games, I realize again and again that Korean politics must become more competitive.

Politicians, it is time for you to expand your imaginations and find a better approach to the politics of globalization.


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

by Kim Ho-ki

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