[Outlook]Harnessing our energy

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[Outlook]Harnessing our energy

Korea won 13 gold medals in the Beijing Olympic Games and ranked seventh in the medal standings, a great achievement at the same level of many advanced Western countries. Korean athletes did their best and the people cheered them on enthusiastically. The people discussed the Games fervently on the Internet during the event.

When Japan stirred up international controversy over the Dokdo islets, the people worked to protect our territory and to correct non-Koreans’ incorrect perception about the islets before the government did. People in the civic arena found out where Dokdo was not stated as Korean territory in guides, reference books and maps around the world and attempted to get the listings fixed. They ran an advertisement in a U.S. newspaper to state that the islets are a part of Korea. Youths are also taking part in this project. Nobody told them to do so; they are getting involved voluntarily.

Local kids used to practice dancing in back alleys, and now some of the world’s best B-boys are Koreans. Thanks to the imagination of our youth, Korea has become a center of online computer games. Korean celebrities are popular around the globe. On the Internet, people pour out new ideas and express their opinions about government policies. They actively take part in politics, and are not afraid to criticize political moves they disagree with. There is no room for the politicians of old who only reach out to voters in traditional ways.

These are the special characteristics of today’s Korean society, which are rare in the world. Some call our enthusiasm a result of Koreans’ excitability or tendency to get emotional, but there is no doubt that our energy is driving Korea toward becoming a cultural force in the 21st century.

This is why the passionate citizens who participated in candlelight vigils can’t be simply regarded as blind masses who were exploited by left-wing activists.

We need to find out how to interpret this energy that fills our entire nation, and how to turn it into a growth engine for the country’s development.

In the ceremony for this year’s Liberation Day, the government said it would use green growth, particularly in the energy industry, as a new growth engine.

The direction and the idea behind this policy are good. The question is whether the government has concrete measures in place to implement its ideas. If not, it will be very difficult for the government to regain the trust of the people.

From a broader perspective, the energy of the Korean public, rather than just that of the industrial sector, is more important. Civil society has grown as strong as the government in terms of information and knowledge.

More experts are in the civic sector than in the government. Members of an open community express their opinions freely and take an active role in issues related to everyday life. These are distinctively different traits from the Korean society of the past. This is a transformation of our civilization and a total paradigm shift of our collective mind.

Therefore, the country’s leadership and government policies must match the new paradigm. Participatory democracy is still in effect. The former administration started the engine, and now is the time to polish it into a more refined driving force and raise the dignity of Korean society.

In the past, the government led and the people followed. It shouldn’t be like that any longer. The government and civil society must cooperate to govern the country. We need to nurture our democracy so that it can mature.

When it comes to constitutionalism, it is not only law and order that form the basis of society. The law gains legitimacy from the consensus of the people. Dialogue among the people must be the foundation of a new paradigm of constitutionalism.

To realize these goals, we should use the energy of Koreans, energy that is present here and now. If we regard the energy as negative just because it isn’t easy to interpret or appears disorganized, Korea will regress. We need to look closely at new forms taking shape in our society, forms of information, culture, communication, knowledge, sports, art and politics. If we only care about our livelihoods, we will fail to grasp the energy.

It is wrong to close down all commissions and cut down all organizations. The government should at least open a commission to harness the energy of the people, to interpret our drive and imagination and to make sure this new energy flows into every field in society. The government must start the new engine.

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

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