Social conflicts a black markA presidential council on social unity will be launched in August.
The council - which President Lee Myung-bak has been planning to create since earlier this year - will study measures to ease conflicts between different ideologies, social classes, regions and generations and look for ways to erase discrimination. It will then provide the president with recommendations on how to accomplish those goals.
Korean society has successfully accomplished industrialization and democratization and is on the path toward advancement. But the nation is going backward in terms of social conflicts.
Under authoritarian regimes, the country’s main conflicts were between democratization and anti-democratization groups and between the Gyeongsang and Jeolla provinces.
During the era of democracy, our conflicts have diversified and deepened.
Korea has become one of the most divided societies in the world. The split is almost automatic: Whenever a major issue comes up, society is divided. And those in the middle suffer.
It is natural for the president to realize the seriousness of the situation and try to resolve it. President Lee recently said that for society to become healthier, those who stand in the middle-of-the-road politically must be empowered.
Lee believes that the split between the left and right is way too big in Korea, and he expects that the presidential council on social unity will become a buffer zone.
The council can produce effective ideas if it is run well. Because division is like a disease, the social problems we face should never be hidden. They should be presented on the table openly, and we must discuss ways to solve them.
In 1988, Roh Tae-woo, then-president elect, formed a committee for democratic unity. The committee had three subcommittees, one for democratic development, one for national unity and one for social reform. The main focus was to address the movement in Gwangju.
The committee listened to the testimonies of witnesses and defined the Gwangju incident as a democratization movement.
Based on the committee’s recommendations, Roh prepared measures to mend the rupture in society. His response included a government apology and compensation to the victims, among other things.
Such a committee, however, is an advisory organ and can never provide a fundamental resolution. The task of mending the split lies with Korean society, but the president undeniably must take a leadership role in it.
Lee must look closely at his administration and determine whether there are any cases of nepotism. He must contemplate if his administration’s inconsistent attitudes toward North Korea and candlelight protests have fueled the ideological divide. He must determine if his welfare policy for commoners is sufficient.
Without such efforts, the council will be nothing more than a face-saving measure.