Respecting the Ukraine war
The author is a former ambassador to Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s imperial delusion has brought about genocide and massive human rights abuses on the battlefield. Daughters are being raped while sons are killed before their lives have barely begun.
War is still a vivid memory for the Korean people. Last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky gave a video speech to the National Assembly to remind South Korea of the Korean War and request aid. Of 300 lawmakers, only about 50 attended the session. It was a diplomatic disaster for Korea, and we are ashamed.
The National Assembly showed extreme disrespect to a leader of a foreign state. In diplomacy, protocol is an important form of courtesy. The key to protocol is not about respecting formalities; it’s about being considerate to a partner. Enforcing an equal level of protocol, whether the partner is a developed country or a developing one, is important because we are showing respect to the partner. What would have happened if U.S. President Joe Biden or Chinese President Xi Jinping had given a speech? The lawmakers would have filled the conference room and given a standing ovation.
Currently, Zelensky is not just a leader of a foreign country. In the international community, he is respected as a hero like Winston Churchill. He is an icon of resistance against superpower Russia and also is the center point of the free world. He has said Korea is a role model for Ukraine for having recovered from the ashes of war and accomplishing democracy and economic development.
What caused this diplomatic disaster? Politicians in Korea clearly don’t understand the importance of the ongoing Russian invasion in the world history. Yuval Harari, the author of “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,” said the Ukraine war could mark the most dangerous moment since the Cuban missile crisis. The war is a historically important incident that may destroy the collective security regime centered on the United Nations, which continued since World War II, and trigger a new cold war. The war is also a serious security issue that may trigger a global food and energy crisis and is directly linked to the security of the Korean Peninsula. Our politicians, however, were unable to understand it.
The Ukraine war is a struggle to defend democracy against authoritarianism. Just like our protests in June 1987, Ukraine has defended democracy with the deadly Revolution of Dignity at the end of the Euromaidan protests. But Russia has never experienced such a democratic revolution. If Ukraine can defend itself from the Russian invasion, democracy will gain strong power in the international community, and Putin’s authoritarian regime will face internal pressures to collapse.
“To be born again, first you have to die,” wrote Salman Rushdie in “The Satanic Verses.” For Russia to be born again as a democracy, its authoritarian regime must die first. At this critical point, our National Assembly unintentionally supported Putin’s authoritarian regime through its political indifference.
The Biden administration is offering massive military support to Ukraine because of the unanimous backing of the Congress. Until now, Korea’s diplomacy is only focused on short-term national interests defined by economic gains. But we must change our diplomacy to show support to democracy and human rights.
Each year, Ukraine has submitted resolutions to the UN General Assembly to condemn Russia for human rights violations and military maneuvers in Crimea, but Korea has abstained from the voting. No advanced country from the free world hardly abstained. We need to vote to support the resolutions.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.