Contagious corruption

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Contagious corruption



Lee Ha-kyung

It’s been nine days since Pope Francis left Korea and many of us miss his presence. During his five-day stay, he met the families of the Sewol ferry victims five times. He said he “cannot be neutral” on the pain of the victims’ families. He held the hands of a father who is on a hunger strike after having lost his daughter and comforted him. President Park Geun-hye still refuses to meet that father even after 45 days of his hunger strike. When she had a meeting with victims’ families at the Blue House in May, she said, “I will make sure the truth of the tragedy is investigated until you have no regrets,” and promised, “I will meet you again.” What has happened to her promises?

What the families who have lost their children in this tragedy need is consolation, not cold logic. When Pope Francis visited them, they said they felt respected for the first time since the disaster four months ago. In contrast, they called the ruling party their “enemy.” Laws and logic will not resolve the situation. The main opposition party turned down a plan negotiated with the ruling party for a special law to investigate the tragedy and declared it was going to fight for terms more acceptable to the victims’ relatives. The families want a civilian committee to be given the right to investigate the tragedy and indict wrongdoers. That demand is understandable but not necessarily wise.

The only person who can turn this free-floating fury into reconciliation is the president. She has to approach the problem with her heart, not her brain. She should show motherly care for the father who lost his daughter. All she needs to do is to renew her pledges from May. Then, the distrust and fury in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul, would subside. The president could bring lawmaker Moon Jae-in, who has joined the hunger strike, onto her side with a renegotiation plan. It is the only solution to overcome the tragedy and revive the economy.

What makes Pope Francis so powerful? People say he has “come low.” I think he has emptied himself. Instead of residing in a luxurious Vatican residence, he stays at a guesthouse that was a hospice in the 19th century. He knows too well that the lives of humans cannot be free from unpleasant fates. He constantly reminds himself that the ultimate essence of every living thing is vanity, and he must resist that. His strongest weapon is an emptiness that allows empathy.

Why is it so hard to find a leader with empathy? We may not have been able to nurture true leaders while dashing around paying attention to various problems. We have failed to fulfill our political and moral duties. All we have done is to cast a vote once in four or five years in the presidential and general elections and leave the real work to the politicians. The politicians have lost the ability to distinguish right from wrong. Those who really care about the people may feel wrongfully accused.

Our backwardness is the result of a modern history of Japanese occupation and colonial rule, division and the Cold War. Colonization has deprived us of the ability to look at our own problems with any kind of clarity. The war, prolonged division and the Cold War have left a psychological legacy in which telling the truth is dangerous. That’s why democracy is growing so slowly in Korea. In 21st century Korea, people indulge in manners that are not agreed upon and struggle in a world of uncontrolled greed.

The Sewol ferry disaster, violence in the military and lewd acts by public figures are contagious diseases of corruption. Violence in the military should have ended when the country’s per capita income hit $1,000, but it still haunts our children even though our per capita income is $26,000. A welfare system that should have been put in place when per capita income was $10,000 is still incomplete. As a result, Korea has both the highest suicide rate and the lowest birth rate among OECD members. It is no coincidence that hundreds of valuable lives were killed in the Sewol ferry disaster but the community is still not committed to humanitarian values.

British economist Joan Robinson said, “The purpose of studying economics is not to acquire a set of ready-made answers to economic questions but to learn how to avoid being deceived by economists.” In order not to be deceived by the politicians, we need to know politics and participate in political processes. Only then can we change the political climate of “bad money driving out good” and have great leaders.

Hating politics only helps the bad politicians thrive. Pope Francis has said, “A good Catholic meddles in politics.”

Instead of entrusting the state with everything and sitting with arms crossed, we have to be faithful citizens who exercise both rights and duties. Building humanitarian values and citizenship may be the essence of Pope Francis’s message to the Korean society.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 27, Page 35

*The author is the chief editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

BY Lee Ha-kyung

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