[Viewpoint] The fourth global democratic wave

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[Viewpoint] The fourth global democratic wave

We are witnessing the fourth global wave of democratization, with the popular uprisings that are sweeping the Middle East, including the toppling of long-serving autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt and perhaps the leader of Libya as well.

The trajectory in the growth of democracy over the last two centuries has been imprinted with certain patterns and trends. Industrialization gave the public a greater voice, which led to the replacement of monarchies with republican legislative governments in the first wave of democratization during the American War for Independence and the French Revolution.

The Second World War provided the impetus for the second wave by eliminating the fascist governments of Germany, Italy and Japan, and replacing them with democratic ones.

The third wave began with the popular revolt in Portugal in 1974, which triggered a domino effect in Spain and Greece and then spread to Asia, including the Philippines in 1986 and South Korea in 1987.

The explosive and contagious nature of the fourth democracy wave now appearing throughout the Arab world has stunned many experts, forcing them to find explanations for its sudden outbreak and the likely results.

They agree that the democratic experiments in an Islamic environment could trigger various complications, while the revolutions were largely driven by the young generation, who grew up with access to Western society through the Internet and satellite TV and are as savvy in the use of digital mobility and Internet media like Twitter and Facebook as their Western peers.

Young Egyptians held banners in one hand and mobile phones or digital cameras in the other to show the global audience scenes of chaos and excitement on the streets of Cairo. This generation, armed with technology, has become the hero of the new democratic wave, underscoring the shock waves caused by a wired global community.

The revolution, unleashed by masses who have long been repressed by dictatorships and dynastic hereditary rule and stymied by corruption, social inequality and poverty, is developing into an unstoppable historical trend.

But the fourth-wave democratic group must also deal with the challenges and trials of creating viable and effective governments that also confront the third-wave group.

The new governing class must, therefore, work hard to create a new state model that can assure freedom as well as economic prosperity and equality for their liberated and hopeful people.

Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia, which follow various degrees of democracy while maintaining a Muslim identity, can be a good benchmark. China’s controlled yet vigorous economic system can be a tempting alternative. China is unmatched among emerging BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) economies, but it lags behind India and Brazil in terms of promoting democracy.

The world is closely watching whether the transformation of the Arab community could affect the development of democratic systems in China and Russia. Our interest is whether this influence on China will spill over to North Korea as well.

Until now, North Korea has remained stubbornly impervious and resistant to the emergence of democracy in other parts of the world, including that just across its border. But North Korea must have liked democratic ideals if it decided to call itself the Democratic People’s Republic, although it is poles apart from the democratic system.

Paradoxically, despite its vehement resentment of Japanese colonization and the exaggerated anti-Japanese rebel activity by the country’s founder Kim Il Sung, the regime has emulated the imperialist Japanese legacy of a deified and hereditary monarchy and militarism. North Korea is run by a monarch-like leadership that has been handed down from father to son and gives the military the highest priority.

Can a state entity remain perpetually detached from the flow of history? How long can North Korea survive in antiquated self-exile, burdening the Korean race and the peninsula with a situation that is exceptional in the global community? Only unification can be the answer to the problem. We await the fifth wave that will remove the immense rift on our own soil.

*The writer is a former prime minister and advisor to the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Lee Hong-koo
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