[Outlook]A map of ourselves

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[Outlook]A map of ourselves

The best-selling book of maps called “L’Atlas 2006” was recently released in Korea.

The publication, which was originally published by Le Monde Diplomatique, a monthly newsmagazine specializing in international relations, was a huge hit in Europe.

It explores urgent international issues from a left-wing perspective. For instance, in one of the maps, the size of each country is proportionate to its gross national income.

Thus, Korea is pictured as larger than Africa or Oceania even though on an ordinary map, the peninsula is merely a dot.

The map clearly shows the state of the Korean economy, without any need for explanation.

The book also has a graph titled “Development and Inequality” that represents quality of life. The vertical axis shows the Gini coefficient, a measure of inequality of income distribution, and the horizontal axis indicates the Human Development Index. HDI is an index combining measures of life expectancy, education attainment and incomes.

Korea and France are located near each other. Korea is slightly behind in terms of HDI but its distribution of wealth is more equal than in France. Korea also has better distribution of wealth than the U.S. but its HDI lags behind. China, Russia and India are no match for Korea, or so the maps suggest.

Korea is certainly a decent country even by European left-wingers’ standards. However, people here don’t seem to think so.

TV broadcasters show footage of clashes between protesters and the police. The government works to legislate an act and the opposition parties and liberal organizations immediately call it MB’s evil law, the MB standing for Lee Myung-bak.

The reasons for the legislation are overshadowed by violent protests and slogans uttered by emotional crowds, the sort of behavior that usually happens in underdeveloped countries, not in a decent one.

The buoyant feelings you get from looking at the maps is quickly replaced by feelings of misery, as if one is onboard a sinking ship.

In 2006, the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago conducted a survey on people’s patriotism in 34 democratic countries.

Korea ranked 31st in the survey.

Our negative view of ourselves stems from recent history. When former President Roh Moo-hyun was in office he said in Korea’s modern history, justice was defeated and opportunism thrived. His remarks are right, to some extent, but he makes light of other, less depressing aspects of Korea’s modern history.

With this attitude, it is difficult to efficiently mobilize the energy required to unify the people. If there is light, there is a shadow. It is natural to severely criticize side effects produced in the process of rapid development. It is necessary to raise voices to keep the powerful in check and protect the underprivileged. Nevertheless, it is ridiculous to deny or underrate achievements, or the true identity of our country.

Noam Chomsky, an American scholar, gave Korea a good evaluation. In 2006, he praised the country during his lecture in a master of business administration course at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the U.S. He said Korea has a most desirable development model. The country was not subordinate to another country and it simultaneously achieved economic growth and democracy on its own.

In the 1970s when I was a university student I shared the view that Korea’s economy would take the typical course for underdeveloped countries. I believed that it would eventually become subordinate to the United States and Japan, provide cheap labor and take in industries that cause pollution. But not anymore.

Now in 2009, Korea has world-class information techonology, electronics, shipbuilding, iron manufacturing and automaking industries. I wonder what liberal camps in Korea think of the American liberal intellectual’s positive evaluation of Korea.

The opposition parties and liberal civic organizations must acknowledge our country’s achievements and our true identity. At times, they should make bold concessions to and cooperate with those who have power. If they endlessly protest, the people become tired, as Park Won-soon, executive director at the Hope Institute, advised the Democratic Party.

Those in power must change their attitude as well. They don’t get the opposition parties’ cooperation when they need it most to overcome the global economic crisis. But they have only themselves to blame for the regretful situation.

The Grand National Party constantly attacked the administrations of Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun on nearly every issue without presenting any good alternatives.

The Lee administration must earn trust by presenting pre-emptive policies, one step ahead of the opposition parties’ requests.

We should end our self-inflicted torment from being caught in a narrow domestic sphere when the world acknowledges us.


*The writer is an assistant chief editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Lee Ha-kyung
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