Legacy of the April revolution
As affairs at home and abroad are seriously disturbed, a time of introspection is needed to get a grip on ourselves. This is how we face the 55th anniversary of the April 19 revolution, the starting point of our nation-state and civic society.
During the dark period of Japanese colonization, countless brave champions for a Republic of Korea were determined to restore sovereignty along with the independence movement and during the chaos that followed liberation. But we must remember that it was the Hangul generation, who received elementary school educations after liberation, who rose resolutely to face the crisis when politics drifted away from the constitutional order and the basic principles of social justice were ignored. With the April 19 revolution, the Korean community regained its own language and young students tried to defend the constitutional spirit - all power is originally vested in, and consequently derived from, the people - and it was a historic starting point for the nation-state and civic community that was declared.
Although the revolution did not lead to democratization immediately, the spirit remained alive in the veins of the people and remained an underlying basis for our society even through the long years of authoritarian rule. Those unquenched embers eventually allowed the people to check the power of authoritarian leaders and enabled the country to accomplish democratization through the June democratization movement.
And yet, the challenge of establishing a representative democracy that fully reflects the people’s goals and desires and improves the efficiency of state affairs still remains a heavy responsibility and a significant challenge to our people. We are now standing at a critical juncture to make a bold challenge to test the possibility of a civic democracy and its limit by incorporating the spirit of the April revolution and the wisdom of the people who desire a just society.
International affairs are also in a dangerous transition period as a new balance is sought among the superpowers. A dangerous nostalgia for imperialism is spreading fast among the superpowers. Russia, China and Japan, the countries surrounding the Korean Peninsula, are falling into that highly unwelcome trend, and this demonstrates that Korea will face difficult choices and decisions in the future.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s shocking decision to annex Crimea and meddle in Ukraine clearly shows that he is making decisions based on the Russian people’s nostalgia for the glory they once enjoyed during the periods of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union.
Chinese leaders are also dreaming about recreating the long history of Chinese empires by building a new superpower based on the country’s steadily strengthening power.
Japan, the first Asian country to succeed in modernization and westernization, is showing an obsession with the glories of its imperialistic era, while also showing a hesitation to face its aggressive past that brought about countless victims and untold devastation in the region.
The nostalgia for imperialism that is sweeping up the superpowers in the region provide an omen of war for the Korean Peninsula. We have to see in ourselves the same vulnerability felt in Ukraine and territories being disputed in the East and South China Seas.
This year will see the 70th anniversary of the division of Korea, and we are facing a juncture in which the United States, Russia, China and Japan - the world’s largest military and economic powers - will be in heated competition. Korea’s diplomatic strategy in this situation may seem indecisive or fluctuating depending on the balance of the powers.
But moving fast and flexibly to reflect changes in our situation is the basis of a successful diplomatic strategy. That flexibility, however, is only valid when it is strongly supported by a resolution to defend the country’s basic values. What are the basic values that Korea is pursuing? It is protecting the free, democratic community that the people are owners of, something we confirmed through the April revolution. And this will be the top priority of our national strategy.
Russia, China and Japan are not models for Korea’s democracy. That is one of the ways Korea, a smaller country, can survive among them. A national consensus to endure sacrifices is a must in order to promote an active diplomatic strategy to become a leader in internationalism, not nationalism.
The courage of selecting this lonely and difficult national strategy is possible because our strength comes from the wisdom of national survival over the past century. Today, the citizens of the global community won’t turn away from the Korean people’s lighting of a torch to insist on democratic politics and social justice. The legacy of the April revolution is a milepost for our future.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 20, Page 31
*The author is a former prime minister and adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Hong-koo