A bitter taste from nostalgia marketingLast year, the television series “Reply, 1994” became a huge hit, so there must be reasons why 1994 meant so much to so many. The National Research Council for Economics, Humanities and Social Sciences, under the Prime Minister’s Office, published a report in late 2012 titled “The Republic of Korea Based on Changes in Economic and Social Indicators.” The numbers from 1994 are reason enough for Koreans in 2014 to become reminiscent, with the country now trapped in a period of low growth.
During the Kim Young-sam administration, the actual gross domestic product growth rate was 6.3 percent in 1993, 8.8 percent in 1994 and 8.9 percent in 1995. Household income was increasing by 8 percent in 1993, 14.8 percent in 1994, 12.8 percent in 1995 and 12 percent in 1996. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate was consistently dropping, from 2.9 percent in 1993 to 2.5 percent in 1994 and 2.1 percent in 1995.
Politically, Korea finally experienced a change in leadership. For the first time, someone with a civilian background - not from a military academy - became president. In 1993, the “Civilian Administration” stamped out Hana Club members and eradicated the possibility of military influence in Korean politics.
In that year, the Dec. 12 coup was officially defined as a rebellion, and two former presidents, Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae-woo, stood on trial. Korea also globalized, and 4.65 million Koreans travelled abroad in 1996, double the figure from 1993, at 2.42 million.
But what we need to remember is what has happened ever since. In the early 1990s, the so-called Generation X enjoyed prosperity that was built on the unlimited devotion of hard-working parents. In 1997, the International Monetary Fund bailed out Korea, and our trust in society fell. We should have been energetic and diligent, but progressives and conservatives clashed at every turn.
Troubles were serious in politics. While the civilian leadership was intact, the new leadership was still in an infantile state. In the first year of the Kim Dae-jung administration, the Grand National Party opposed the ratification of Prime Minister Kim Jong-pil for nearly six months, and during the liberal Roh Moo-hyun administration, the opposition party attempted to impeach the president.
In the conservative Lee Myung-bak administration, the opposition rode along with the mad cow disease scare, and in the Park Geun-hye administration, the election result has been contested. The following of the defeated evolved as a way to bring down the winner, and the leadership of the winner is still not complete.
So nostalgia marketing to remind us of 1994 leaves a rather bitter taste. If Korea is to grow, we should look 20 years ahead rather than reminiscence over the past. If we want to recall the memories of 1994, the conservatives and the progressives as well as the ruling and opposition need to first wake up and plan for 2034.
*The author is a deputy political and international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by CHAE BYUNG-GUN