[Viewpoint] Democracy not the enemy of industryI recently came across some details on President Lee Myung-bak’s early days while preparing for a special feature commemorating the 50th anniversary of the April revolution. One item of interest was the organization chart of the Fight for the Nation Committee.
This group of college-aged demonstrators had been under surveillance by the Seongbuk Police, which produced this document in 1964, listing Lee Myung-bak as the vice director. Other notable figures included now-former National Assembly representative Park Jung-hoon and professor emeritus at Korea University Choi Jang-jip, also listed as the leaders of the demonstration group.
They entered college in 1961, when the nationwide fervor in the wake of the April revolution was stronger than ever. In the midst of such an environment, strong student movements emerged, in which Lee became a major figure.
I found another tidbit on Lee’s past in the Korea University newspaper, which reported on a panel discussion about student demonstrations against the normalization of diplomatic relations with Japan.
The aforementioned leaders of the demonstration team as well as other student representatives who had attended the March 24 protest participated in the panel, which was organized to “reflect on past demonstrations and discuss the future of student demonstrations.”
The event highlighted the young generation’s national pride and concern about Korea’s foreign affairs. Forty years have passed since then, and Lee is now Korea’s head of state.
Lee’s life after college reminds us of an episode of a soap opera. While Korea went through a dramatic industrialization process, Lee achieved success as a regular salaryman. Using this as a stepping stone, he entered the world of politics, in which he quickly became popular among conservatives and eventually found himself in the presidency. When looking at his life, one will realize the mix of industrialization and democratization in Lee’s identity.
The two processes, while distinct from each other, have complex relationships. Back during the Cold War, social trends usually went down strictly black-and-white paths: democracy or authoritarianism, capitalism or socialism. Nowadays, these matters are no longer considered mutually exclusive.
Recently, the Blue House established the Presidential Committee on Social Communion. The creation of such a committee indicates the deep chasms that exist in our society, such as the conflicts between leftists and rightists, and between conservatives and liberals. But when one describes one’s personal identity, simple labeling often becomes impossible.
Considering that today’s society has been created from a mix of industrialization and democratization, it seems perfectly normal that the two seemingly different values can, in fact, exist in a single identity. It is time to accept that one’s identity may originate from the presence of opposing values.
*The writer is a deputy editor of culture and sports news at the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Bae Young-dae