Crisis of confidence

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Crisis of confidence

August is the month Koreans commemorate our liberation from Japanese colonial rule and the restoration of our national sovereignty. Too many years have passed to relive the exhilaration we felt 68 years ago on Aug. 15. Only people over the age of 80 would have clear memories of the sensations of that day and the feeling of relief.

Since the day we lost our country to Japan in 1910, our ancestors sacrificed themselves to recover and rebuild our country. These endeavors to carve out a common path for our race continue on with the contemporary generation. We may not be able to rekindle the jubilation of that day today, but we still need to take a moment to think about its implications for our country’s future.

We are bound to the Korean Peninsula and identify ourselves as the Korean race. We have lived on this land for thousands of years and are destined to remain here for years to come. Regardless of our age or generation, the leaders of this land and this ethnic community must make choices to pave the ways and means of building this country.

Our hearts may be too heavy with contemporary frustrations and anxieties to genuinely celebrate the liberation of our country due to the difficult choices our nation faces today. Inter-Korean relations and the regional geopolitical situation have turned sour. But we may just have to accept that we also lack confidence in our community’s ability to wisely address the dire challenges confronting us.

We are experiencing a crisis of collective confidence. First, we are losing confidence in ourselves - our status, achievements and capabilities. We can no longer proudly claim our reputation as the ever-resilient Koreans who can fight and defeat whatever calamities and challenges are thrown our way. Second, we cannot trust each other these days. Instead of understanding and unity, the petty art of pigeonholing is widespread, and we end up fighting and despising one another. Before permanent damage is done, there must be a national endeavor to put an end to the spread of this alarming crisis in confidence.

No matter what difficulties we may face at home and abroad, they are not worth throwing away the faith we used to have in ourselves. The entire world is faced with challenges and doubts, even about democracy and the market economy. But we have - so far - weathered choppy waters relatively well. The United States and Europe, the birthplaces of democracy, are now swamped with political incompetence and confusion. The Arab Spring - the wave of democracy movements in despotic Islamic communities - has also backfired, causing disastrous mess in many societies.

The achievements we made in terms of democracy - we have had six peaceful power transfers to elected presidents since we introduced the direct presidential election system in 1987 - cannot be underestimated. Despite the meltdown of financial centers in advanced countries that shook the global market and economy over the last five years, South Korea’s credit ratings have been upgraded twice. Few can question the resilience of the Korean people and companies. So why should we?

For a while now, our society has been so engrossed with dealing with everyday incidents and accidents that we have neglected to think about our national fundamentals and future. We let ourselves be led by moments of passion instead of reflecting on things - and we start doubting ourselves instead of having faith in each other. We surrender ourselves to the fatal illness of doubtfulness to the extent that our society is slowly disillusioned.

In the meantime, the resulting social fissures are offering a heyday for propagandists who aspire to intensify the societal schism. What we desperately need now is to prepare a pan-national forum for various elements of society - ranging from religious groups to academia to the media sector - to launch endeavors to restore faith in ourselves, our people and neighbors for a better future.

Our ancestors upheld the humble tradition of helping one another to create a society in which all can live harmoniously. Without a deeply-felt belief in helping one another, this country and people could not have survived so many challenges and struggles for thousands of years.

I believe that our people are again willing to put aside self-interests for the common good as long as the means are fair and just. We must, therefore, start a serious public debate on how we can create a community that pursues the common good more than anything else.

No matter how demanding the work may be, we must confidently initiate a long-awaited debate on how this country can guarantee interests of each individual of this democratic republic in political, economic, social and cultural fields. When the people become focused on such a debate and endeavor to reform the political system to make practical civilian participation and work out economic justice by ensuring public interest in economic governance and distribution of income and welfare, we will be able to rediscover the confidence we need in and amongst ourselves.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

*The author is a former prime minister and adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Hong-koo
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