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[Editorial] Finding the Way With the People

Posted March. 31, 2005 23:38,   


Dong-a Ilbo has come to celebrate the 85th anniversary of its founding. In celebration, we would like to remind ourselves about our founding spirit by looking back to the days when we took it upon ourselves to become the “manifest of the people,” when we called for democracy, and when we advocated culture as a newspaper written in the mother tongue during the time of our lost national sovereignty. Since our establishment in 1920, the Japanese ordered four publication suspensions against us for an indefinite period of time up until 1936. On August 10, 1940, they finally shut us down. As it was our mission to become a ray of light for the people, such suffering was an inevitable fate in such a cruel time of forced occupation.

After Korea regained independence, Dong-a resumed printing and we prided ourselves in endeavoring to keep up with our new mission to help establish the Republic of Korea, bring democratization against the dictatorship, establish a market economy, and enhance the national benefit and the people’s well-being. However, we look back at those days when we failed to maintain a fair view and write without fallacy during the time of national decay and dictatorship with embarrassment and self-criticism. In retrospect, in honor and contempt of our crooked history, we would like to refresh our founding spirit and stand firm to face our readers, the people, and the future.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the forced signing of the annexation treaty and the 60th anniversary of reestablished independence. However, recent provocations from Japan over Dokdo and Japan’s continuing distortion of history shows that the nightmare of the forced agreement is far from over, while the situation surrounding North and South Korea demonstrates that the restoration of independence is yet to be completed. The nation is now being swept by raging waves. It is in the midst of a current of cultural revolution that forces us to question where the nation stands, and it is surrounded by swirling challenges and reactions in regards to the rearrangement of orders in Northeast Asia. Such enormous turmoil reminds us of the upheaval of the past century.

Korea has attained industrialization and democratization despite the pains of having the country broken in two. Though South Korea has managed to achieve miraculous growth in a very short time, even with the relationship of a “hostile reliance” with the North, this economic development came to a halt with an inevitable crash with the desire for democracy. The democratic resistance of June 1987 became a firm guideline to establishing a systematic democracy. However, the pre-modernistic values and habitual practices, the anachronistic movement of ideological experiments, and the inveterate political composition that encourage the regional divisions that infest Korean society signal even more pain to come in our journey toward perfection of free democracy.

The inauguration of the Roh administration created a “starting line” for both a new possibility and a new form of uncertainty. President Roh’s attempts to emerge from the authoritarianism characterized by “imperial presidencies,” to sever politics from the economy, and to cut the chains of corruption, are indeed praiseworthy. However, the scars of clashes and division are made deeper because of the self-righteousness that tries to monopolize the “value of the times” instead of acknowledging the diversity of values, and that considers the era of industrialization, a definite developmental stage in history, as a period to deny and atone for. Unrestrained desire for changes in the mainstream is vividly manifested to the point that it is destabilizing the state of national affairs, anchoring policies, and magnifying political confusion and social conflicts.

Ideological imbalances and excessive devotion to an ideology within the society only amplify uncertainties with regards to national security and economy. Ideological pro-North, anti-American sentiments, the anti-business atmosphere, the theory of distribution that undermines expansion of national wealth, and the egalitarianism that promotes the downward equalization that is jeopardizing national competitiveness are just some of those uncertainties. Such ideological inclinations are coupled with a destructive syndrome that means to sweep away existing values, creating an air of self-contradiction about our nation’s identity. The practice of undermining Korean history, whether self-generated or attempted from the outside, has found its way to penetrate into the educational sector, and the self-justified value orientation of the so-called “new mainstream” is not entirely without fault in bringing about this phenomenon. If the trend of cultural revolution that distorts a healthy desire for change is left to be further expanded and reproduced, the social risk that we would have to pay as the price for that negligence has a high chance of being more than just an economic crisis this time.

The first step to set things right is to use history not as a subject of contradiction or something to square off over, but as a subject of constructive succession and a textbook for betterment. It is right to look to the light and darkness of history for lessons to be learned, but today’s Korea exists upon the blood and sweat of yesterday. The national growth, democratic advancements, and authority shifts were all made possible thanks to the economic feat that took this nation out of poverty. The dictatorship of an era that focused on development, and the monopoly and oligopoly of capitals had some effectiveness in maintaining the survival of the nation and the people in the context of the conditions and situations of the time. Rather than criticizing the past from a lopsided perspective, we should work together with a prudent leadership and national wisdom to make wise distinctions about what to let go and what to gain from history in order to build a more an orderly and stronger country.

Now, how should we tackle the rapids of rearrangements over the new order in Northeast Asia? The president emphasized our role as a mediator. However, it is questionable whether we will be able to grasp the dynamics of neighboring countries and have a firm navigation plan and a detailed strategy about fulfilling the role, ready at hand. The theory of mediation, along with the self-defense theory, may induce pride in the people, but it is, to put it callously, void and even risky. If by any chance, President Roh is trying to tackle diplomatic issues from the populist stance that he demonstrated in the domestic political arena, the outcome of such a trial and error approach may bring unfathomable losses of national benefits.

The alliance between Korea and the United States has been loosening, recently. There are bound to be differences in opinion as we recognize North Korea as an enemy and a brother at the same time, while the US sees the North Korea nuclear issue as a part of its international strategy. However, once we cross the point of no return in regards to our alliance, Korea may become, not a mediator of the new order in Northeast Asia, but a castaway in the Northeast Asia region. This is the cold-hard reality of the international order. We should beware of the fact that Korea is not forging any firm relationships with neighboring powers, while the Japan-U.S. relationship is being consolidated even stronger.

No authorities should put their benefits over the good of the nation and its people. Reform should consist of calm innovations and improvements, not a revolution. Destroying a valued legacy cannot be regarded as real progress. Experimenting with issues that teeter over the good of the nation will bring about the downfall of the nation. Amid the dynamics formed in the framework of unlimited competition from globalization and the unilateralism of the United States, the whole focus of national capabilities should be brought together through cool-hearted, pragmatic perspectives and practical policies to decide which path to follow in order to protect the security and the well-being of the nation.

Dong-A Ilbo is now willing to squarely face the turmoil in and out of the country, the grave national tasks at hand, and find the right path for the nation together with the people of Korea. We will try to remain vigilant against the deviation of the authorities, act to protect the people’s right to know, and channel diverse ideas to form a central value that suits the national benefit and well being of the people. While condemning ideological imbalances and contributing to the establishment of a truly free democracy and the market economy, we will continue to find the great moral principles in bringing about a peaceful unification of the North and South. We will always strain our intellect to build a stronger country. Such an endeavor, we believe, will be the only way to repay the support and love from the nation for Dong-a over the last 85 years, and to maintain that trust and love, while opening up the future of the press.