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[From Kwanghwamun] The effect of time on ideological divisions

[From Kwanghwamun] The effect of time on ideological divisions

Posted March. 05, 2001 17:54,   


The people who studied in the universities in the 1980s are skilled in ideological arguments. Since the pro-democracy movement on the school campuses gradually turned into anti-American and pro-liberalization demonstrations, they became familiar with a wide range of ideological arguments.

Although there were hardline, moderate and various other groups struggling over directions and methods, their common premise was that unless the national division was eased or destroyed, not only political democratization but also simple justice could never be achieved.

For them, the national division was both the beginning and end of the self-contradictory tendencies in Korean society. The continuation of authoritarian military rule and loss of economic justice was also attributed to the nation`s division. For them, the national division served as a means of perpetuating a government structure founded on suppression and violence.

This particular group now constitutes the backbone of contemporary society. Most range in age from their middle 30s to early 40s. As for social status, they tend to be acting section chiefs, section chiefs, deputy division chiefs and division chiefs.

Their power is greater than that wielded by their predecessors at the same age. The reason is that with the transformation of the industrial society into knowledge and information-based one, the influence that an individual can exercise has grown significantly.

Of course, there are conflicting views of the pro-democracy movement in the 1980s, but there is no denying that their struggle left Korean society more flexible in terms of ideology. Without the turmoil of the 1980s, this country would be much weaker in terms of its ability to accurately interpret modern history to bring about needed social change. But this does not mean that the logic behind the movement was always right. In my personal view, many of their assertions lacked a proper foundation.

The sticky question here is whether, despite its growth, our society is still ruled by the polarity between conservatives and reformists. Though those who fought the struggles in the turbulent 1980s have now grown to play a leading role in society, the scope of the ideological spectrum has not grown proportionally.

There may be many reasons for this, the foremost of which could be that the scars left by the internecine Korean War are too deep. Owing to these scars, the majority of Koreans tend to consider themselves to be conservatives. Because of this tragic war, the inter-Korean relationship does not compare with that between the former countries of East and West Germany.

Worse yet, regional and factional interests further complicate the situation. Inter-Korean relations should not be viewed from a regional standpoint. But the reality is different. In fact, regional sentiment has often emerged in the guise of the confrontation between conservatives and reformists.

It was reported that President Kim and Kim Jong-Pil, honorary president of the United Liberal Democrats, had agreed to make joint efforts to facilitate North Korean Defense Commission Chairman Kim Jong-Il`s visit to Seoul. The North Korean leader`s Seoul visit is regarded as being conducive to easing the existing structure of division between the two Koreas.

Regardless of the dispute between those on either end of the political spectrum, now is the time for the Korean people to approach this question in a realistic and reasonable manner. It is never helpful to go to extremes. The conflict between conservatives and reformists should be addressed without the use of coercive means. The issue will hopefully be resolved through the natural growth and development of Korean society. When those who came of age in the 1980s reach their 50s and 60s, and the new generation who grew up in the 1990s takes over, the situation will hopefully be better than it is today.

Lee Jae-Ho leejaeho@donga.com