30 May 2009

Update on President Roh

More news trickles in via BBC and other sources in the aftermath of Roh's funeral and cremation. Currently, Roh's ashes are temporarily interred at his hometown, while the family decides on a worthy permanent resting place for him. Meanwhile, over 5 million people were known to have paid their respects to Roh at official altars, including many outside South Korea, including a few hundred people in major US cities. (Of course, as Roh was completely despised among Korean-Americans, I was surprised that anyone actually paid respects stateside.)

Analysis comes in in the form of what the South Korean people will make out of Roh's legacy, and it appears that a consensus is forming. Many believed that 2MB's prosecution of Roh's corruption charges was politically motivated, and now that Roh is dead, there will be serious backlash against 2MB. (In fact, when 2MB paid respects to Roh's coffin, he got many boos.) Many prominent people are giving opinions that Roh's ideals of bringing unity to the South Korean society, and opportunity to its working class, are to be revered - even if Roh did not exactly do a good job of carrying out those ideals himself - and that 2MB's policies have served to really fracture and divide the South Korean society.

Based on my observations in Seoul, and based on what other Americans on long-term assignments in South Korea have shared with me, I am very well convinced that the 2MB presidency is all about taking South Korea several decades back, into outright oppression and outdated McCarthyism. Even stateside, I have paid for this - in the form of all the false rumors about my own current President, and in the form of Proposition 8 in California. If Roh's death finally spurs the better South Koreans to take a firmer stand to defend their democracy, restore South Korea's rule of law (and sovereignty), and ensure that their taxes are spent on themselves rather than far-right special interest groups stateside, then South Korea will end up doing a huge favor to itself and all the freedom-loving people of the world, like it did before through its democratic struggle.

Thanks to regulations which require a current South Korean resident registration to apply for memberships at South Korean websites, I am not able to join pro-democracy groups, much less contribute to them. But I do want to help out with this new phase of democratic progress in any way or capacity I can.

Of course, the fresh round of very raw belligerence from Pyongyang complicates things further. But I've read the analyses on this as well, and nothing is unpredictable. North Korea must remember that any hardline actions on its part will only serve to legitimize the 2MB rule that it detests so much, and more importantly, they go completely against its rhetoric of serving the entire Korean race. 2MB must also remember that his policies have, in turn, have legitimized the North's belligerent actions. If the Confucian model of diplomacy, long held standard in the region, is to be put into action again, South Korea must be able to take the high road as the more mature, more affluent of the two regimes, and treat North Korea as any mature older brother would treat a younger, impoverished brother throwing temper tantrums. (Read: a good mix of sticks and carrots.) And most importantly, I do hope for good decisions stateside as well; while open hostilities will certainly result in more income for the US defense contractors, the US will more than pay for it with massive loss of goodwill, and must do everything it can to broker permanent peace. A new war in Korea is certainly bad news for China and Japan as well - and definitely extremely bad news for the world economy.

Many people in the US and around the world have pointed out to South Korea as a role model to look up to when it comes to people-powered democracy. It's time for that reputation to be upheld - and to hopefully spark other democratic movements around the world, including the US. (The Obama Presidency was only just setting the stage - the people now MUST speak up and tell Obama what to do.) This is a time of crisis, but if handled correctly, the results will be more than worth it. Even for me, I'll be happy once the circumstances change to the point where the Korean-American community will have to choose between changing and becoming irrelevant.