All are patriotsWe are up against an unprecedented national crisis. First of all, the nation has become gravely divided and contentious and yet there is no leadership attempting to patch up our differences. Second, conditions within and outside our borders have turned unpredictable and unfavorable. Third, defeatism and hopelessness dominates the ethos. Few bear belief in themselves or the nation or believe that we can get back on our feet.
We did not lose hope even during the Korean War, national instabilities from military coups and the succeeding democracy movements. The country was on the brink of going bankrupt at the time of the 1997-98 Asian economic crisis. But we fought back because we did not have three ill fortunes at the same time. This time, it is different because the elite does not even want to recognize the gravity of today’s condition.
Pretrial procedures ended at the Constitutional Court after hearing final arguments from the presidential and legislative sides. The independent counsel’s team, too, ended its 90-day investigation.
Wednesday was the 98th Independence Movement Day. We should have commemorated the proud spirit of unity and patriotic devotion to restore our national sovereignty behind the Independence Movement. But we present a nation in disarray before our ancestors. We are a disgrace to those who fought against the guns and swords of Japanese colonizers with bare hands to stand up for the dignity of their flag and nation.
Crowds in Gwanghwamun Square and Seoul Plaza are at odds, one group carrying candles and another waving flags, glaring at each other. They support opposite ideas. Skirmishes seem unavoidable. Only six months ago, when weekend rallies began to protest against the scandal-plagued president, we congratulated ourselves and drew praise from outside for our peaceful popular movement and political engagement.
There were opportunities for breakthroughs and settlements, but politicians would not compromise. Many had warned that impeachment could bring about greater unrest and problems. They recommended leaving room for the president to make a graceful exit. But the opposition would not settle, engrossed as it was in a fevered quest for so-called justice.
But what is done is done. In two weeks, the Constitutional Court will hand down a verdict to uphold or reject the National Assembly’s impeachment motion against President Park Geun-hye. A new chapter will open for Korea. The problem is what comes next. What if we remain the same or become worse after wasting nearly half a year in the agony of suspense and with such political wrangling?
We have not been blessed with remarkable leaders, but we must go on. If we do not combat this challenge together, we could be doomed. We could find ourselves nosediving from our current economic rank. Southeast Asian and Latin American countries should be lessons.
I truly believe in the patriotism of those flag-carrying crowds. They are the generation that survived the war and poverty and watched the nation’s dramatic transformation into an industrialized and democratic country. They cannot simply stay home out of a fear that a multitude of leftists are taking over the political scene. They are mostly elderly. It is not the president they are chanting for, but their beloved country.
Their sincerity and patriotism must be respected.
Then there is the other group. They have come out in the downtown streets since September with a feeling of shame and betrayal after watching an elected president be exploited by a mysterious woman with no official title. No nation has seen such peaceful, voluntary and genuine rallies go on for so long. We should be proud of the maturity of our society and younger generation.
Although they are poles apart, tens of thousands meet every weekend and yet there have been no reported casualties or physical collisions. Koreans have set a new direction and example in a popular movement in democracy. Politicians attempt to ride the popular movement and sway opinions for their own interests. But the people are wiser than they think.
Conflicts could heat up as Judgment Day nears. One side will win and the other will lose. It was an ultimatum of our choice. Politics wanted to gamble and fanned conflict. Public opinion has become bisected and partisanship worsened.
Winner takes all. That was the rule of Korean policies for decades. All they wanted was to protect their vested power. All the talk of compromise, harmony and unity was just talk. The factionalism across regions, class, generations and educational background dominated politics, and it has ended up at the doors of the Constitutional Court. The ruling hinges on the bench’s legal judgment and conscience.
The ball goes back to the political courts after the verdict.
Someone with eyes entirely on winning instead of trying to bring about integration could end up in the presidential office two months from now. But that person could become a more unfortunate president than the current tenant of the Blue House as he would inherit rage and division. The first thing the president must do is to mend the tattered pride and belief in the nation and show humility and engagement.
He must present a way of harmony, sacrifice and compromise. It may feel awkward because we have not been used to it. But it won’t be hard if the people are addressed as just the people. Koreans are uniquely good and mature. They just have not been blessed with a leader up to their standards.
Park has one deed left. She must not drag her feet this time. We sincerely wish to see a final patriotic gesture from her.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Dailt staff.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 1, Page 25
*The author, a former speaker of the National Assembly, is a chair professor at the Pusan National University.