[Viewpoint] A mix of nostalgia and anticipation

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[Viewpoint] A mix of nostalgia and anticipation

Few in today’s generation reflect on their hometowns with a similar yearning as poet Chung Ji-yung expressed in his celebrated poem “Nostalgia.”

Still, millions of Koreans travel back to their hometowns for gatherings with families and relatives during the Lunar New Year and Chuseok holidays.

The holiday season brings forth a gush of nostalgia among those who have no hometowns to which to return. Nostalgia is a longing for the past space and time where our childhoods were spent. The New Year offers a time of reflection on things we value most in our lives while on the road to our physical or spiritual hometowns.

Life has become very hectic and complicated. We are obliged to compete among ourselves and others abroad. We have been racing forward for many decades now, yet still have little time to catch our breath.

We have accomplished much, but cannot stop here because even greater success is our goal. But we are not sure where we are headed and why. If we have taken the wrong path, we will end up in a different place and may have to pay a heavy price for the consequences.

Maybe we should stop for a while, gather our breath, and think hard about what we value and where we want to go. Such a moment of leisure is essential to a healthy future for individuals as well as the country.

To know where to go, we must look back to where we began our journey. This year marks the ceremonial anniversary of many of our historical turning points - the 50th year of the first major popular uprising of the April 19 Movement, the 30th year of May 18 Gwangju Democratization Movement, the 60th year of the beginning of the Korean War and the 100th year of Korea’s annexation by Japan. The year provides an important stage to reflect on our monumental historical experiences. Reminiscing about our tumultuous past rekindles many painful memories. But fortunately, we are better off today and can look back on the past with some nostalgic emotions. If we all take a little time during our holiday to contemplate our shared values and future, we will sow the seeds of unity necessary for the strength to move forward.

The direction of our course will be a lot easier to find if we recall the gains and losses we experienced at every juncture of our past 100 years. We lost our rights and freedoms when Japan’s imperialistic ambition violated our land. The independence movement was our fight to win back our country and sovereignty. Since liberation in 1945, we achieved remarkable accomplishments, interrupted, for a time, by war.

The people on this land have never lived in a free one-nation country in modern history. Despite the tragic legacy, we have become a proud and hopeful country.

Our journey up to now has been extraordinary, thanks to our people’s fearless defense of freedom. We shed substantial tears and sweat to free ourselves from the chains of poverty, ignorance, violence and weakness. But we still have a long way to go to complete our freedom. Yet we are less restless than before because we have along the way attained confidence that our forces when combined can accomplish many things, including a model advanced society.

But the inter-Korean issue is a problem even our joint best efforts cannot easily solve. Hundreds of people still hope that they can one day see their hometowns in the North. Their yearning is a shared by the entire population. Our hearts ache just thinking about North Koreans living their entire life without the taste of freedom. We must keep on dreaming that all 70 million people on Korean land will one day will experience this. We must tell ourselves that we can endure more sacrifices to make that dream come true.

*The writer is former prime minister and adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Hong-koo
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