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[Opinion] The People Are Exhausted

Posted December. 04, 2001 09:05,   


There is only one more page left on the wall calendar. GNP president Lee Hoi-Chang returned from his visit to Russia and Finland, saying, "Russia is covered with snow flurries and its weather cold." Korea is also in the winter season. With the days getting cold and the calendar is running out of pages, the world looks dismal. Although one looks for hope even in the midst of hardship, there just doesn`t seem to be a place for it.

150 trillion won in public funds have leaked and taken by whoever wanted a piece but not a single public official is taking responsibility for it. There is nothing but clattering noise over forming some combo-special investigation team. The chief public prosecutor whom the opposition party plans to impeach takes on an arrogantly defiant stance while President Kim Dae-Jung says, "The President`s interference in (chief public prosecutor`s run for National Assembly office) is to compromise the autonomy of the prosecutor." and leaves for his visit to Europe. Although the people`s wonder whether the autonomy of the prosecutor can be compromised any further, the President insists on `the free decision of the prosecutor` which makes it look as if he were backing the chief prosecutor.

This kind of grand discourse and the detachment from reality, in other words, the gulf between the President`s `textbook words` and actual reality is creating distrust and cynicism in society. On top of this, the moral credibility of power is in crisis and the accumulated impact of all this is throwing us into a psychological panic. After the worry over regionalist loyalties, important posts were indeed filled on the basis of regional ties and every branch of power planted its own drawn from the same inner circles. The repulsive odor of corruption that spread from this is the fundamental reason why the people have turned their backs on the `People`s Administration`. In retrospect, `personal politics` is the iron chain that this administration should have cut off from the very beginning.

The GNP`s attempt to extend the retirement age for teachers by the power of its majority was also a mistake. It just wasn`t appropriate as a display of the `opposition party administration`s` power. With 65 percent of the nation against it and even the majority of teachers opposing it, this was completely out of tune with the `politics for the people first`.

This is not, of course, to say that the current administration`s education policy is right. Take one case for example. Ms. C (50) who worked as a teacher for 26 years and 5 months received 60,000,000 won in honorary pension payment and left the school. When you calculate the difference between the payment and monthly salary, she would have worked five more years. After those five years, however, such pension payments may have disappeared. There is much talk about how pensions will contract because of drying up funds. When teachers are put on the defensive and treated like some object of reform, why would they want to continue teaching? Many teachers of similar age have already left their schools.

After 1999, the number of teachers like Ms. C who left school as honorary retirees have increased three times greater than formal retirees. The insufficient pool of teachers today is not simply due to cutting the retirement age but clearly due to the `arrogant` education policy which cares nothing for teachers` sense of pride and spirit. One high school teacher in Seoul, Mr. K(51), said, "Whether they raise the retirement age one more year or not, please don`t shake up the teaching profession any more." The policy is ineffective and only demoralizing the teachers.

While the retirement age issue was swelling up, the chief public prosecutor`s `rightful demand` to enter the running for government seat looked like an attempt to shake up the opposition party administration. The end result of all this is that the people do not care who is right or wrong because they have become weary of the political war. Mr. Lee Hoi-Chang, who was recently voted number one candidate for next president in several popular polls, should not stop at just criticizing and attacking the ruling party as the head of the opposition. He has to show that he is listening to the people`s will and that he can embrace those who are tired and struggling. He has to present a blueprint for how he will run the country and console the nation. Above all, he has to seize the heart of the people. If he tries to secure the next presidency by running an anti-DJ campaign, even if he wins he will not provide any hope for changing the country for the better.

Chun Jin-Woo (Editorial Staff Writer)

Chun Jin-Woo youngji@donga.com