Parsing Yoon’s inaugural address

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Parsing Yoon’s inaugural address

Ko Jung-ae 
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Inauguration speeches of past presidents were much of the same. They all praised the history of the Korean people, while describing the president as a leader who will open a new era and present many promises in all fields of national governance. For example, the last president made a promise that he will create a country that no one has ever experienced.
President Yoon Suk-yeol’s address, however, was different. The difference was more significant than the simple fact that he mentioned “freedom” 35 times but never mentioned “unity.”
His inaugural address was to the world audience. At the same time, nationalism was largely diluted. The speech was devoid of any mention of the Korean people. According to Yoon Pyung-joong, honorary professor at Hanshin University, nationalistic sentiments and collective unconscious is a habit of mind for the Korean people. Yoon, however, did not use it at all.
In his inaugural address, Kim Young-sam said no ally is better than the Korean people. Although President Moon Jae-in did not mention the concept in his inauguration speech, he introduced himself as “the president of the South,” during a speech in Pyongyang and stressed that “the Korean people must live together.” At the time, Choi Jin-seok, a professor emeritus of Sogang University, criticized Moon for “having failed to discriminate his role as to whether he is the leader of the Korean people or the commander in chief of the Republic of Korea’s military.”
 President Yoon Suk-yeol delivers his inaugural address in the compound of the National Assembly on May 10. [NEWS1]

President Yoon Suk-yeol delivers his inaugural address in the compound of the National Assembly on May 10. [NEWS1]

Instead, the concept of “citizens” was stressed in Yoon’s speech. Democracy is a political system in which the concepts of the government and the citizens correspond to each other. Unfortunately, we have used the “people” in place of “citizens.” Past presidents were no exception and inauguration speeches of Roh Moo-hyun and Park Geun-hye made no mention of citizens. In Moon’s speech, the term was used once, but it was nuanced to refer to the residents of the city of Seoul. He promised to relocate his office to Gwanghwamun and “visit a market on his way home and have casual conversations with the citizens.”
Perhaps the term was not used because the Constitution largely addressed the people. But Dr. Yoo Jin-oh, when the country was first establishing the Constitution, said the term, the people, hints at the superiority of a country, and it is inappropriate to express the subjects with inviolable freedom and rights.
In his inauguration speech, Yoon used the term citizens 15 times. It was a revival of the concept. He also talked about freedom, the universal value of democracy, as well as human rights, solidarity and philanthropy. Of the past presidents, Kim Young-sam was perhaps the only one who discussed freedom in his inauguration speech. He said “Our freedom should be freedom for the community.”
Yoon’s concept of freedom expanded further. It was like the idea of British politician William Beveridge, who believed that freedom means more than escaping the government’s arbitrary power. Beveridge said it means going beyond scarcity and poverty as well as other economic servitude of other social evils. A starving person is not free, he said.
Yoon turned his eyes to the outside and made the world a subject of solidarity. “Domestic issues and international issues cannot be separated,” he said. He also tried to go beyond the thinking centered on Korea or the Korean Peninsula.
It was a unique speech. According to the members of Yoon’s presidential office, he came to two conclusions while listening to various opinions. He wanted to have a speech different from ordinary inauguration speeches, which would explain his governing philosophy and vision and send a message to not only the people but also the world.
I had discussions with some Yoon aides about the speech. When I noted that he was the first president to send a message to global citizens, they responded that Yoon was telling the countries that already see Korea as an advanced country which way it will go. It was a message to form solidarity and cooperate with friends that share values.
I noted that it was more of a concept of democracy in the western world, and they said Yoon’s speech was an act of throwing his hat in the ring that we will become a country based on philosophy, reasons and pragmatism of the western world.
Asked why Yoon had not mentioned the Korean people, they said he did so because it was not a constitutional concept. Yoon mentioned North Korea because the Constitution assigned the president a duty for peaceful unification, they said. The president promised to promote the values in the Constitution such as liberal democracy, market economics and human rights, they said.
“The President shall have the duty to pursue sincerely the peaceful unification of the homeland,” says Clause 3 of Article 66 of the Constitution. That was the language of democracy for me, a journalist following politics. But I still have a question. Is Yoon the democratic leader he has promised? 
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