Looking back on 2013

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Looking back on 2013

The time has come to say farewell to 2013. As we celebrate the end of the year, people ask one another, “How are things going with you?” Looking back on the year, we all feel frustrated and anxious. We didn’t believe all the fancy promises made during the election campaign. But we still anticipated a fresh hope to resolve our problems. We thought the newly elected president would at least work on reviving the economy and that the National Assembly would cooperate during the honeymoon period. Yet only the painful outcries of young people reverberate.

The past year has left devastating wounds. The appointments and promotions of the people in the president’s secret “notebook” led to painful trial and error. Some resigned after ridiculous scandals, and the chief of staff was replaced in less than five months. Impartiality could not be found. While we hoped the touted “creative economy” would create jobs, it is now joked about as a mysterious policy. Caught between campaign promises, tax revenue and principles, only small and midsized businesses are the losers. In political confrontation, the ruling party only struck back instead of pursuing the politics of persuasion and appeasement.

The opposition party was driven by hard-liners and couldn’t deliver demands properly. Negotiation was challenging. Within one year of the new administration, the opposition staged outdoor rallies after putting up tents in Seoul Plaza. On major issues such as the NLL transcript, NIS Internet postings and railroad strikes, the ruling party failed to dominate the situation and was swayed by extreme voices. More than a year after the presidential election, the opposition still seem to not accept the election outcome. What more do they gain with such a choice rather than through reasonable negotiation? Have they won the trust of the citizens?

I do not mean to determine which side is more at fault. It would be much easier to blame one side. The biggest concern is that the political culture of disobedience may become a chronic illness. Of course, political parties need to have a solid plan to govern the nation. However, with a single five-year presidential term, all administrations in history have been lame ducks toward the end of the term. If the president is stirred early on, the administration does not have time. The Lee Myung-bak administration lost the momentum to promote policies after the candlelit vigils over the resumption of U.S. beef imports. The Roh Moo-hyun administration suffered an impeachment crisis. The situation is even more complicated with the local election slated for next year. With so many distractions, the term ends nearly as soon as it began.

Does it feel better to ask the politicians responsible? If the situation gets any better by blaming them, we would be lucky. Of course, qualified leaders would keep the balance no matter what people say and think. But they are swayed by immediate interests or larger voices. That means we are all responsible for the fuss.

Whenever issues like the railroad privatization emerge, I feel envious and scared at the same time. How can they be so confident? Those who have a direct interest, such as the union, have to speak up on the matter. But how can so many people present their opinions so proudly and decisively? In fact, if I have to choose, I support privatization because of the slack management of public corporations. Management reform is unavoidable, if Korail does not get privatized. It is healthier for an organization to be exposed to the market, while it may not solve the problems entirely. But I always try to think that my judgment could be wrong.

I am ashamed that as a college student I used to think I knew everything that was going on in the world. Even on the topics that I was unfamiliar with, I used the anti-government yardstick. In the last days of the Yushin rule and the early period of the Fifth Republic, the leaders were so obviously at fault that I didn’t need to use another standard. Knowledge begins from doubts and questions. I didn’t know that all the questions should come from within. I now ask myself whether I have become a slave of dogma and ideology.

We need to ask ourselves: Do I draw conclusions without contemplating as soon as you hear a question? Do you divide everything between good and evil? If so, you are in the early stage of being a slave. If you don’t listen to other opinions or consider them meaningless, you are already in the second stage. If you pretend to be an expert in all areas and other people can easily guess your answer, you are seriously in the state of being enslaved by dogma and ideology. Hatred and anger let you make a fast decision. But the possibility of making a right decision is very low.

The Kim Dae-jung administration meant great changes. Both the ruling and opposition parties shared the administrative experience. Instead of opposing for opposition’s sake, the foundation for policy discussion was prepared. But things have gotten worse. People cover their ears and speak louder. They prepare for the next election as soon as one election is over. What good is it to have power when there is little that a government can do?

*The author is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Kim Jin-kook
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