[OUTLOOK]How to let democracy take rootThe Roh Moo-hyun administration signifies the start of a new period, the post-democratization period following the 15-year struggle to install a functioning democracy here. In this period, we have reached the point in which we graduate from “simple” democratization, to borrow British sociologist Anthony Giddens’ words, to “reflexive” democratization. This means transcending the simple choice of dictatorship or democracy, acknowledging the diversity of our society while still holding the same values in solidarity.
Looking back, this presidential election showed both the good and bad sides of our society’s simple democratization. Democratic procedures were in place, but there were also fissures between different regions, classes and generations. The generation gap was a new element in this election, in addition to the traditional axes of regionalism and class conflict. Now, the front lines of political opinion has even extended into households, creating an unprecedented degree of conflict.
The Roh Moo-hyun administration has put forth balance and coexistence as two of its national goals. A society which develops in balance and with the principle of coexistence is a society in which tensions are resolved democratically and a higher level of national unity is created. The first thing to do to create national unity is to resolve regional conflicts. Regionalism has long prevailed in our country not only for emotional reasons but for political and economic ones as well. The foremost countermeasure to this problem is to appoint government personnel from all regions equally. A well-balanced public personnel policy would provide a clue as to how to solve the problem of regionalism. Observing President Roh’s personnel policy so far, it seems that he has wisely followed that path. He would be even wiser to keep on the same path.
As much as regionalism, the differences between the capital and the rest of the country have hurt national unity. One of the most prominent characteristics of our development strategy over the last 40 years was the concentration of activity in the capital city of Seoul. This development strategy, which cannot be found anywhere else in the world, has kept production costs and opportunity costs rising steadily, and cast a shadow on national unity. The Roh administration has proposed several types of decentralization, including a plan to move the capital city elsewhere. A more geographically balanced development strategy should be explored to enhance national unity.
In addition, the diminution of social inequity is another task for the Roh government in achieving national unity. According to a recent survey, the middle class is gradually shrinking and society is increasingly divided into the rich and the poor. The problem is that this disappearance of the middle class is not a temporary phenomenon; it is not only a result of the financial crisis in the late 1990s but is linked to the dawn of the information technology era. It requires a fundamental solution. The Roh administration should concentrate not only on creating more new jobs but also on distributing wealth and expanding a social safety net through tax reforms.
Protecting the weaker members of society is also an important issue. President Roh proposed in his election campaign to get rid of the five major types of discrimination in Korean society: against women, against those with less education, against temporary employees, the physically and mentally impaired and foreign laborers. An active protection policy for these socially weaker groups is one of the central tasks for more unity in society. It is the primary job of a democratic nation to guarantee everyone the right to live as human beings.
In any society, there is tension. Differences in income are bound to exist among individuals and groups that make up society, and it is natural that tension arises from those differences. A mature democracy does not unilaterally deny this tension but tries to overcome it through enhancing the unity of its members through democratic conversation and compromise.
The Roh Moo-hyun administration presents “conversation and compromise” as one of the new government principles. The president has also expressed his intention to make this into a “debate republic.” Achieving national unity of a higher quality through the principle of conversation and compromise is the starting point of a reflexive democracy. May the Roh administration be the foundation on which the period of reflexive democratization blooms.
* The writer is a professor of sociology at Yonsei University.
by Kim Ho-ki
More in Columns
What a column is all about
No footing on the ground
Splitting the difference
Paying through the nose
A government illusion