It is undoubtedly a blessing for anyone to have a country of his own, a place to which he can always return after traveling abroad and where he can live happily and comfortably with his friends and relatives. Unfortunately, not everybody is blessed in this way. There are those who have lost their homeland and become refugees wandering without hope due to war or political turmoil. In that sense, Koreans are blessed, even though the Korean Peninsula is unfortunately divided by political ideologies and located in the eye of the storm of an international crisis.
Nevertheless, many Koreans still do not seem to have the luxury of living happily and comfortably. Some people still suffer poverty and others are victimized by social and political prejudices. Some people are disappointed in the government’s policies and others are devastated, as their reputations have been ruined by the ruthless press and social media in personal and political scandals. Young people who cannot find jobs are disillusioned by the relentlessly harsh present reality. Those people may want to leave their country for a land of better opportunities.
The problem is that there seems to be no good place to go these days. Europe is overburdened from a massive influx of refugees from the Middle East and therefore no longer seems to want immigrants. The situation of the UK does not seem to be particularly rosy either, especially after it dropped out of the European Union. America used to be a paradise for immigrants, but not anymore. The United States, which was indisputably the one and only dreamland for immigrants, now no longer seems to be interested in accepting immigrants due to its “America First” policy. Under the circumstances, perhaps it would be best to make your own country a better place to live, rather than trying to emigrate.
Living in Korea, therefore, we dream of a country where we can live joyfully and peacefully. We wish to live in a country that moves into the future, not regresses into the past. Unfortunately, our politicians’ mentality seems to be hopelessly stuck in the 1980s, and they cannot break out of the nutshell of the past. But we live in the 21st century, a time when many things have fundamentally changed: the internet, Google, smartphones and plastic cards that have completely replaced paper money, to name but a few. If we are still haunted by the specter of the past in this era of electronics, we will be doomed for sure.
Recently, an eminent scholar warned that, in virtually every aspect, South Korean society is about to regress to 40 or 50 years ago, unless it cuts itself off from the specter of the past. These days, criticizing previous governments, we talk about the “lost 10 years.” But if we do not bury the hatchet soon, it may be the lost 40 to 50 years, as we retreat into the past.
We dream of a country where true progressives and genuine conservatives, rather than pseudo-progressives and quasi-conservatives, are prevalent. In Korea, people are labeled as “progressive” if they are pro-North Korea, and as “conservative” if they are anti-North Korea. That is very weird. True conservatives are those who value social institutions such as marriage, family, church and school, advocating traditional values. If you are simply intoxicated with political power or populism, you are by no means a conservative.
By the same token, true progressives are those who subscribe to anything with the prefix, “liberal” or “free,” such as liberal democracy, liberal education, the free market economy and free trade. Indeed, how could a progressive refuse or detest liberalism? If you deny liberal ideas, you are not a progressive; you are nothing but an old-fashioned conservative.
We dream of a country where we are outstanding not only in economic development, cutting-edge technology and Hallyu, but in diplomacy, education, and culture as well. We wish to see our political leaders freely converse with foreign politicians in the global language, English, without the aid of an interpreter. We wish we could maintain good terms with neighboring countries, rather than antagonizing them.
We also dream of a country where students are educated to become cultured and learned men and women, not to merely get high scores in SATs. We also wish that our radical teachers would stop brainwashing and indoctrinating young people at school. And we wish our literature and films were free from serving any political ideology.
We dream of a country where our politicians do not use the political power that is vested upon them by the people to intimidate those same people. We dream of a country that is going in the right direction. If our political leaders drive in the opposite way on a one-way street, they will seriously endanger the passengers.
We dream of a country where we can put an end to factional brawls and be united, not divided. We desperately dream of a country where we can live happily and serenely as a result.
Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and a visiting professor at the University of Malaga in Spain. He can be reached at email@example.com -- Ed.