“The Greatness of the Ordinary”
- Reflecting on the new world order
1) General Park Chung-hee took power in a coup on May 16, 1961, and his regime dissolved the National Assembly, suspended the Constitution and declared martial law on October 17, 1972. A new electoral college called the National Council for Unification was set up, and Park launched the Fourth Republic on December 23. The new Yusin (維新 Revitalizing Reform) Constitution, granting Park lifetime dictatorial powers, was announced on December 27. The government also announced emergency measures banning any public dissent against the Yusin regime, and a crackdown ensued. Park Chung-hee was assassinated on October 26, 1979, and the regime dissolved.
Gwangju is a city that symbolizes Korea’s contemporary history. The Korean people owe Gwangju a heartfelt debt, and many Koreans, when they think of Gwangju, still ask themselves repeatedly whether they have been just.
In the spring of 1980, Korea was impassioned by the university students’ democracy movement.
The Yusin regime1) had come to an end, but a new military junta2) had seized control of the government. The junta carried out a coup d’état and a harsh dictatorship unfolded. An emergency martial law was declared, politicians were arrested, and political activities were banned. Universities were ordered to suspend classes, public gatherings and demonstrations were banned, press reports were subjected to censorship prior to release and violators of the government degrees were incarcerated without a warrant.
University students demonstrating in front of Seoul Station became concerned that the military government may employ armed suppression, and they decided to withdraw. Meanwhile, the demands for democratization coming out of Gwangju were becoming increasingly vehement. The military government, which deployed paratroopers, committed a massacre against the civilian population, and this state-sponsored violence resulted in the deaths of many citizens. Gwangju’s flower petals began falling on May 18. The killing in Gwangju continued until the airborne troops took control of the provincial government building on May 27, and the last petal fell to the ground.
The Gwangju tragedy ended with savage killing, but it caused the Korean people to come to two awakenings and left one task undone. The first realization was that it was average people who faced the brunt of state-sponsored violence. The people who overcame their fear of violence and displayed courage were laborers, farmers, public transport drivers, company employees and high school students. Most of those who died belonged to these groups.
Second, the Korean public became aware that its citizens exercised tremendous self-control, maintaining order even in the face of state-sponsored violence. During the time of the resistance in Gwangju, not a single case of looting or theft occurred, which served as a source of pride and model to be emulated throughout Korea’s subsequent democratization process. Koreans came to understand that acting with integrity is the greatest form of achievement that ordinary people can display to resist unjust authority. Achieving victory through ethical integrity may appear slow, but indeed, it is the fastest way to change the world.
The task that remained was to spread the truth about Gwangju. The Korean democratization movement has been all about exposing the state-sponsored violence inflicted upon Gwangju and bringing to light the hidden facts of the case. I also worked in Busan as a lawyer and took part in the efforts to publicize what happened in Gwangju. Many young people risked their lives and continued to make efforts to revive the Gwangju story; democracy was ultimately found in Korea and Gwangju became sacred place of democratization.
Significantly, the first person to bring the story of a besieged Gwangju to the outside world was a German TV reporter, Jürgen Hinzpeter, who worked in Japan as a foreign correspondent for the German public broadcaster ARD-NDR. Koreans are profoundly grateful to Mr. Hinzpeter. In May 2016, his fingernail clippings and strands of his hair were interred at the May 18th National Cemetery in fulfillment of his last wishes.
2. Candlelight Revolution, Gwangju Revisited
I am bringing up the story of Gwangju in 1980 because I wish to talk about Gwangju today.
Korea’s Candlelight Revolution took place during the winter of 2016, amid bone-chilling weather. The movement began with people asking what kind of country deserves to be called a “properly functioning nation.” Korean society witnessed more severe economic disparities and polarization going through the Asian foreign currency crisis that began in late 1997 as well as a global financial crisis that hit in 2008. The forces of finance and capital strengthened, while the labor environment worsened with the spread of contracted non-regular workers. The public’s sense of loss was made all the more acute by the corrupt practices of the privileged class. Then, the Sewol Ferry capsized while sailing through the Maenggol Waterway near Jindo Island off Korea’s southern coast, and hundreds of precious young students died as a result of the absence of proper rescue procedures. In the grip of great sorrow, the Korean people began searching for a new way forward on their own.
The Candlelight Revolution continued for months as parents with their children, mothers pushing baby-carriages, students with their teachers, workers, and businesspeople all came together to heat up the icy surfaces of city plazas and squares around the country. In March 2017, the Korean people, without a single incident of violence, finally removed from power an administration that had violated constitutional values. The most ordinary of people employed the most peaceful of means to safeguard democracy. The spirit of Gwangju in 1980 resurfaced in the Candlelight Revolution of 2017. Ever grateful, I remember the German press that described Korea’s Candlelight Revolution as a “festival of light,” intermingled with songs and public performances, and profusely praised the people for showing a high level of democratic awareness.
The current Korean Administration was born out of the yearnings expressed by the Candlelight Revolution. I will never forget the will of the public, wishing for a nation of justice and fairness. I believe that the kind of nation wished for by the Candlelight Revolution is one in which the ordinary people can secure decent jobs through a fair process and pursue their dreams under the responsibility and protection of a just government.
Sustainable national advancement is possible when ordinary people are happy in their everyday lives. An inclusive nation is one in which people come together to share their strength, individuals can grow along with the entire nation, and the achievements are evenly enjoyed.
Korea is now moving toward an “innovative, inclusive nation.” In this kind of country, anyone can study as much as he or she wants without worrying about the costs, pursue dreams without fear of failure and enjoy a comfortable life after retirement. I believe the challenges assumed and innovations achieved upon this foundation will preserve democracy and drive the Korean economy’s innovative growth.
Achieving “inclusive nation” status is a great experiment in transforming the socioeconomic system to embrace inclusiveness, fairness and innovation.
In the area of employment, an effort is underway to create more jobs of higher quality. A minimum wage increase and reduced working hours are being pursued through social consent so that workers can enjoy a higher quality of life and receive proper pay for the work they perform. The Government has focused on increasing the youth employment budget and training middle-aged people for reemployment so that they can take charge of their post-retirement lives. In addition, we increased the basic pension and the budget for creating new jobs for the elderly.
Turning to economic issues, our Government has pursued win-win strategies encompassing large companies, which have been the mainstays of the Korean economy, and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Regulations have been boldly reduced so that innovative startups and SMEs can grow rapidly, while access to financing has become innovation-friendly.
In the area of welfare, we are building a social safety net tailored to different stages of life. The scope of national health insurance coverage has been broadened, and the childcare system is being expanded at the state level so that parents need not worry while raising children. In order to create a society that discriminates against no one, the Government has established a comprehensive policy covering each life cycle stage for persons with developmental disorders. In addition, improvements are being made in the protection of women’s rights and interests, and cases of gender bias are dealt with sternly. Greater support is also being given to the children of foreign workers and to multicultural families. In the area of education, the system will be overhauled to provide innovative education that stresses creativity over rote memorization and the competition for college admission.
However, conflict can occur in the process of transformation and the elimination of embedded practices. Time is needed for the interested parties to discuss their concerns with one another, adjust and compromise. And through this, we need to find solutions that benefit everyone. A grand social compromise must accompany this effort for the great experiment to succeed.
The Republic of Korea, once a land devastated by colonization and war, has managed to emerge as the world’s eleventh-largest economy in just over 70 years. We managed to achieve this by quickly responding to change. On our own, we went through an unprecedented national transformation, moving from an agriculture-based economy to light manufacturing, then to the heavy and chemical industries, and finally onto cutting-edge ICT. The Republic of Korea is the only country to gain independence after World War II that has emerged as an advanced economy. We have displayed the potential to succeed after starting with nothing but our bare hands. The Korean people do not fear change; rather, we are a people who use change proactively.
A grand social compromise of significance has been achieved in Gwangju recently. For more than five years, workers and employers as well as the private and public sectors have come together without bickering over individual interests to create more jobs while keeping wages at reasonable levels. The workers had to give up a portion of their pay. Employers suffered difficulties, too, for they had to control their expenses while guaranteeing permanent jobs and assuming responsibility for benefits. The public has stepped up its demands for access to a decent living, posing difficulties for the Government in this compromise as well. The Government had to amend various laws and regulations and provide support to ensure sound corporate operation.
The tasks were not easy, but in the end the grand social compromise was achieved by making concessions and sharing the pain. In Korea, this is known as “Gwangju-type job creation.” People say that this was the result of the “Gwangju spirit,” sacrificing self-interests for the greater good. I believe Gwangju, sacred ground in Korea’s democratization, has created a model for the grand social compromise and has taken the first step toward economic democracy.
The Gwangju-type job creation approach carries additional significance, for it reflects the look of a more mature society. This achievement shows how workers, employers and local regions can mutually benefit amid a rapidly changing industrial structure.
Gwangju-type job creation will serve as a critical turning point on the road toward our becoming an “innovative, inclusive nation.” Long experience has taught Koreans that advancing together while achieving social consensus is good for all, even if it appears to be slow. Koreans know that working together while each party makes some concessions will turn out to be the fastest way to get the job done. Gwangju in May 1980 lit the candle of democracy, and in the same way Gwangju-type job creation has offered hope of a new era through social consensus and has become a stepping stone toward our becoming an inclusive nation.
Inclusiveness allows greatness to be found amid the ordinary. It can bring ordinariness together to make change and establish a new environment. The Korean Government is now committed to replicating the success of Gwangju-type job creation nationwide.
Germany is one of the countries that have realized inclusiveness and innovation in the best possible ways. In their recent history, the Germans reunified peacefully and achieved social consensus inclusively and innovatively. Germany’s example continues to inspire Koreans. Meanwhile, I hope Korea’s Gwangju also inspires many people around the world who are searching for a new social order.
3. The World of Ordinary People
Precisely a century ago, a new era opened in Korea through the collective strength of ordinary people. Koreans were subjected to the colonial rule of the Japanese Empire, and they began their independence manse movement (i.e., publicly shouting “Long Live Independence!”) on March 1, 1919. Some 2.02 million people, or 10 percent of the entire population, took part in the demonstrations. Out in front of the crowds stood nameless people, to include woodcutters, gisaeng (female entertainers), the visually impaired, miners, and serfs.
The March First Independence Movement is crucial to Korea for two key reasons. First, civic consciousness blossomed through the movement. The thirst for popular sovereignty, freedom and equality, and peace penetrated individuals’ lives, and in the process the barriers of class, region, gender and religion were lowered. The people went from being royal subjects to being citizens of a country, and the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea was established in Shanghai.
The Provisional Government’s aspirations were not limited to resisting Japanese imperialism; its members dreamed of establishing an entirely new country. The name “Republic of Korea” was decided on April 11, 1919, and the “Provisional Charter of the Constitution” was promulgated. The Republic of Korea clearly presented itself as a democratic republic rather than as a monarchy. Article 3 of the Provisional Charter stipulated, “All citizens of the Republic of Korea shall be equal, regardless of social class, or whether they are a man or woman, or rich or poor.” All citizens, including women, were guaranteed the right to vote and eligibility for election. Ahn Chang-ho, a Korean independence activist who participated in the establishment of the Provisional Government, had this to say: “In the past, the emperor was just one person, but now our 20 million citizens are all emperors.” This is a truly explicit description of a democratic republic.
The Provisional Government carried out a colonial liberation movement from a place of exile for nearly 27 years. This case is unparalleled in the history of such movements, and the Allied Powers guaranteed Korean independence in their Cairo Declaration, thanks to the work of the Provisional Government.
Second, Koreans came to realize that no force is as great as the bringing together of people’s hearts and minds. They came to trust one another and travel down paths never attempted before. Sim Hun was a modern Korean novelist who participated in the March First Independence Movement. He was incarcerated in a Japanese imperial prison, from which he sent the following message in a letter to his mother:
“Mother! We may offer up our prayers a thousand, ten thousand times, but these firmly shut prison doors will not open by themselves. No matter how much we wail and scream, our greatest wishes will not suddenly come true one day. However, no power is as great as when people’s hearts and minds are brought together. Nothing is as formidable as people working together as one. We always trust in that great force.”
Contemporary Korean history is a history of taking on challenges. We overcame colonialism and national division, war and poverty to advance toward democracy and economic development. Ordinary people were the ones who made these waves of historic undertakings possible. During the century following the March First Independence Movement, Koreans have lived while cherishing a wellspring of communal spirit in their hearts. They have acted in concert each time a crisis occurs. “I want to live well, but I do not want to live well alone.” “I want freedom, but I do not want freedom for me alone.” Sentiments such as these have been brought together to allow the powerful wave of history to surge forward.
I believe that democracy is not an institution or a tool for running a country; rather, it is a matter of intrinsic value. I consider it to be the way for ordinary people, by participating in the decision-making processes that impact their own lives and letting their voices be heard, to secure their rights as citizens and their dignity as human beings. We can build a better democracy. As John Dewey has said, the solution to the ills of democracy is more democracy.
Democracy spreads as the common people come to respect and complement it. Real democracy is practiced when it reaches individual lives, workplaces and society, beyond formality and establishment of institutional structure. All of these reflect the power of ordinariness, and advancement is achieved by accumulating this ordinariness.
Ordinary people in Korea who fought against the colonial oppression and discrimination they faced a century ago usheredin the era of a democratic republic. The passion for freedom and democracy, peace and equality still holds strong after the passage of a hundred years. The spirit of the March First Independence Movement has been rekindled whenever the country became something other than a “properly functioning nation.”
4. Peace for the Ordinary
There is a saying in East Asia that goes “Heroes emerge in turbulent times.” During turbulent times, however, common folk are unable to make it through life on their own. Heroes may be born, but the common folk fall into misfortune.
The chapter on the Biographies of Sun Zi and Wu Qi (孫子吳起列傳) in the Chinese classic Shiji (史記)3) includes the following passage: “Someone said, ‘Your son is a foot-soldier, yet the general, with his own mouth, sucked his abscess clean. What makes you wail?’” (人曰 子卒也 而將軍自吮其疽 何哭爲) The mother cried because she knew her son was moved by what the general had done, and she feared that her son would fight to the death on the battlefield for his commander. The Shiji goes on to say that that woman’s husband experienced identical care from this same general, then went on to fight resolutely and die in combat.
Sima Qian, the author of the Shiji, wrote the chapter to describe the extraordinary leadership of General Wu Qi, but hidden inside the passage is the miserable plight of the widow who had lost her husband in battle. Woven into the heroic tales that we enjoy are also the tragedies of ordinary people who are deprived of the chance to form their own destiny.
The history of the division of the Korea Peninsula is also stained with the tears and blood of ordinary people. Division has bred antagonism in individuals’ lives and thinking. Division has also been used as the means to protect vested interests, bury political opposition, and enable privilege and deceit. Common folk, during the “turbulent times” of national division, were unable to determine their own destinies. Their freedoms of thought, expression and conscience were suppressed. They took self-censorship for granted and became accustomed to improprieties.
The desire to change this longstanding and contradictory situation is one of the reasons that Koreans carried lit candles. They wanted to usher in peace by upholding democracy. Korea would have been unable to take strides toward peace if the candles had not illuminated the way toward peace. The true hero of the Candlelight Revolution is the powerful solidarity of ordinary people. We need to change the East Asian adage “Heroes emerge in turbulent times” to “The power of the ordinary prevails in turbulent times.”
I believe that human history is a process of change, just like the seasons. The Iron Curtain between East and West Germany has been transformed into the Grünes Band, a greenbelt that runs north and south through the heart of Europe. In the same way, I expect that peace on the Korean Peninsula will not stop at the Demilitarized Zone, running east to west between the two Koreas, but will spread beyond the Korean Peninsula to Northeast Asia and even as far as Europe. Our goal is to fundamentally dissolve the Cold War structure of conflict, division and strife that has gripped the Korean Peninsula for so long and to replace it with a new order based on peace and coexistence, as well as on cooperation and prosperity. In Korea this ambitious process has been dubbed the New Korean Peninsula Regime.
The New Korean Peninsula Regime signifies a great geopolitical transition for the area. Geopolitically, the Korean Peninsula has long been a fault line where continental and maritime powers have collided. The situation is like the Balkan Peninsula in Europe, and for this reason Korea has suffered from frequent war historically. Notably, since the Korean Peninsula was divided north and south by the DMZ, the Republic of Korea has been cut off from the mainland and has led an “island-like” existence.
The creation of a new order on the Korean Peninsula means the establishment of a land bridge that connects the Republic of Korea to the continent. I met with Chairman Kim Jong Un of North Korea at Panmunjom in April 2018. This was a historic moment, as it was the first time that North Korea’s top leader set foot on South Korean soil since the Korean War. We promised to stop military hostilities between our two sides.
As a first step in this direction, some of the guard posts were taken down on both sides of the DMZ, and some landmines were removed near the DMZ. Roads connecting the two Koreas across the DMZ were opened, and thirteen sets of war dead remains were unearthed and returned to their respective homelands. In November, troops from the North and South who were involved in these various operations unexpectedly encountered one another on Arrowhead Hill, the site of the last hard-fought battle of the Korean War. They spontaneously lowered their weapons and shook hands – spring had finally returned to the DMZ, 65 years after the armistice was signed.
The onset of the spring on the Korean Peninsula began in Berlin. Following former President Kim Dae-jung, who made his Berlin Declaration in 2000, I came to Berlin in July 2017 to talk again about a new peace initiative that reflected the passion of the Candlelight Revolution. At the time, many dismissed this as simply being wishful thinking. The winter on the Korean Peninsula seemed unlikely to retreat, and North Korea added to the crisis by conducting a series of nuclear tests and missile launches. Other nations responded by steadily strengthening their sanctions. Tensions mounted and rumors that armed confrontation was imminentin April and September of 2017 circulated. The Korean people were worried that an actual war would break out.
I agreed with former Chancellor Willy Brandt when he said, “Small steps are better than no steps at all.” If something is not started, then the people’s longings cannot be realized. A quote by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe also came to mind: “Dream no small dreams, for they have no power to move the hearts of men.” If we hoped to break through the harsh winter and allow sprouts to come forth in spring, we had to discuss the greater dream of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula and permanent peace. It had to be a great dream that could be realized together with the people.
During his New Year’s message in January 2018, the North Korean leader expressed his willingness to improve inter-Korean relations, responding to the great dream of the South Korean people. The North then communicated intentions to participate in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. Neighboring countries in East Asia and even those in Europe sent words of support and encouragement to the thaw on the Korean Peninsula. The people in Korea rallied around the desire to make the PyeongChang Olympics the “Peace Olympics.”
When I made my Berlin Declaration, I made four propositions, suggesting to North Korea that “we first start with what is easy.” These were: North Korea’s participation in the PyeongChang Olympics, reunions among members of separated families, cessation of hostile actions between the North and South, and resumption of inter-Korean dialogue and contacts. Perhaps surprisingly, all four of these proposals have happened during the past two years. Last February, the entire world watched as the group of athletes from both Koreas marched together, behind the Unified Peninsula Flag, in the opening ceremony to the PyeongChang Olympics. Meetings of separated family members resumed, and a new system was established that permits video reunions any time. Most importantly, the sounds of gunfire have disappeared in the air, on the sea and on the ground around the Korean Peninsula. We opened a liaison office in Kaesong, providing a venue for regular dialogue between the two sides. In this way, spring is just around on the Korean Peninsula.
I have long regretted that my fellow Koreans no longer think about the space beyond the truce line. Should the two Koreas reconcile with each other, lay railroads to connect the two sides, allow goods to be transported and allow people to go back and forth, then the Republic of Korea will no longer be an island. Rather, the Peninsula will become a bridgehead from the sea to the Asian Continent, and a gateway from the mainland to the sea. Expanding the imagination of ordinary people also signifies liberation from ideology. The scope of the people’s imaginations, living domains, and thinking will also expand greatly, healing the painful wounds from the division that we’ve had to endure for so long.
From now on, the North-South issue should not be misused for ideological or political purposes; rather, it must be expanded into an issue of life and existence for ordinary people. The North and South represent a community of life in which coexistence is a must. Blights from harmful insects and wildfires could spread to both sides even when people are not allowed to pass. An invisible borderline on the sea threatens fishing rights or can impact the fates of the fishermen who violate the national border unintentionally. Permanent peace is precisely the way to make everything right. This is peace for the lives of the common people, beyond political and diplomatic peace.
The New Korean Peninsula Regime means switching from the passive Cold War order to an active order in the pursuit of peace. In the past, Japanese colonialism and the Cold War prevented the Korean people from determining their own destinies. Today, however, we aim to develop our own way forward. This empowers the common people to take charge of his or her own fate.
The current order on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia is deeply linked to the “Cold War structure” implanted in the region at the end of World War II. In the process of settling post-war matters, the decision was made to divide the Korean Peninsula into two sides against the wishes of the Korean people, who soon were forced to suffer a tragic war. At this time, a trilateral structure involving the ROK, United States and Japan in the South and an opposing trilateral structure involving the DPRK, China and Russia in the North were implicitly put into place.
This Cold War structure entered into a period of détente in the 1970s, followed by the dissolution of the Soviet Union and China’s adoption of a market economy in the 1990s. As such, the confrontation was resolved to a significant degree, but the Cold War situation remained unchanged on the Korean Peninsula. The two Koreas remain divided, and North Korea does not have normal diplomatic relations with either the United States or Japan. Amid this backdrop, the Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Reunification of the Korean Peninsula and the Pyongyang Joint Declaration in 2018 were pronouncements of an end to the hostilities between the two sides, marking the first step in the settlement of permanent peace. At the same time, dialogue continues regarding the normalization of ties between North Korea and the United States alongside the denuclearization issue. If the North Korea-U.S. dialogue results in complete denuclearization and the establishment of North Korea-U.S. diplomatic relations, and if the Korean War armistice agreement is replaced witha formal peace treaty, the old Cold War order will collapse and a new order of peace will start to reign on the Korean Peninsula.
Peace is also the foundation for advancing as a nation in which everyone can prosper together. The New Korean Peninsula Regime means a peace-driven economy. Peace linked to economic progress creates a peace-strengthening virtuous cycle. We are pondering the way for both Koreas to prosper in the interest of establishing permanent peace. We have already started work on reconnecting road and rail links between the two Koreas. ROK engineers have inspected the state of North Korean railroads for the first time since the Peninsula was divided, and groundbreaking ceremonies have been held for the road and rail reconnection projects.
The vitalization of inter-Korean economic exchanges will link surrounding countries and go beyond the Korean Peninsula to reestablish an economic corridor between East Asia and Eurasia. The two Koreas and Russia have begun working-level discussions on a natural gas pipeline running from Russia and across North Korea to South Korea. Last August, I proposed the establishment of an East Asian Railroad Community, involving six Northeast Asian countries and the United States. I am calling for the East Asian Railroad Community to be modeled after the European Coal and Steel Community. It will then lead to the creation of East Asian energy and economic communities and could ultimately be developed into a multilateral peace and security regime in Northeast Asia.
The New Southern Policy and New Northern Policy being promoted by the Republic of Korea will further expand the peace-driven economy on the Korean Peninsula. The New Northern Policy will spur economic cooperation with Eurasia. Last June, North Korea, for the first time, consented to South Korea joining the Organization for Cooperation of Railways, the international rail transport organization with all Eurasian countries taking part. The day will come when people and goods can move by rail from Busan all the way to Berlin. The Republic of Korea, building on inter-Korean rapprochement, will be a facilitator of peace in Northeast Asia.
The New Southern Policy seeks new forms of strategic cooperation between the Korean Peninsula and ASEAN and Southwest Asia. The Republic of Korea considers a community of people, peace and prosperity to be a core value and will bolster exchanges of people and goods with neighboring countries. We are seeking the way to realize Asia’s potential together and achieve mutual prosperity.
Koreans have demonstrated that the greatest power to change the world lies in the voluntary actions of ordinary people. This power will bring down the last vestiges of the Cold War and be the impetus for proactively ushering in the New Korean Peninsula Regime. Importantly, it prevents ordinary people from suffering misfortune unrelated to his or her own volition. The achievement of peace, too, ultimately begins with the will of ordinary citizens, and I hope that the completion of this undertaking can be shown to the world.
5. Heading for an Inclusive World Order
After the Second World War, Europe was also swept into the epicenter of the Cold War. Individual national governments sought new alliance strategies. Germany, divided by the Cold War, made bold strides toward peace, and led the change of Europe in the process.
The 450,000 Berlin citizens who were involuntarily separated overnight because of the sudden erection of the Berlin Wall yearned for reunification and peace, venting their feelings by assembling in front of Brandenburg Gate, in West Berlin, in June 1963. That year, Mayor Willy Brandt offered to open negotiations for a border pass agreement, allowing West Berliners to visit their relatives in the eastern part of the city during the Christmas season. This marked the beginning of the Neue Ostpolitik. Subsequently, the two Germanies began to view one another as partners for cooperation and mutual growth rather than as rivals and blockade targets.
Small prayer services were held every Monday in the East German city of Leipzig from the early 1980s. This modest gathering developed into a series of peace marches, which called for free travel and elections as well as German reunification. The first peace march, held on October 9, 1989, involved 70,000 participants. After just two weeks, the number swelled to 300,000, and the Berlin Wall came down a month later, on November 9.
I believe the European order changed because the ordinary people of Europe took on the task of making peace and aggressively prodded their governments to do the same. The determination and actions of European citizens gave rise to the European Coal and Steel Community in 1952, the blueprint for the European Union, and in 1975 served as the impetus for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which can be seen as the origin of the modern European security order.
As these European examples show, inclusiveness is essential in international relations. The world becomes a place where all can prosper together and progress when we are inclusive and guarantee fair opportunities and mutually beneficial cooperation, transcending national borders and areas of concern. Now, however, free trade advocacy and internationalism that have been the foundation of the post-World War II order have been weakening markedly, while protectionism and national self-centeredness have been creeping to the fore. This international crisis is causing the spirit of inclusiveness and cooperation to disappear. What is urgently needed is the politics of cooperation that emphasizes the responsibilities and norms of individual countries as members of international society.
Again, ordinary people are important. The things that ordinary people can change are not limited to domestic issues. When nations change, the world order can change as well. A new world order can be created when ordinary people consider that everyone has the authority and the responsibility to run the national government and that the fate of the world is linked to their own fates. When ordinary people transcend the notions of national boundary, race, ideology, and religion, and unite in solidarity and cooperation, then the world will also advance sustainably as a place where all can live well together.
An inclusive world is one in which the socially marginalized are not excluded and the majority – provided with reliable welfare benefits – receive compensation for the labor that they deserve and enjoy the fruits of growth. We already know about the achievements that ordinary people have made through inclusiveness in Korea, Europe and other places around the world.
Germany has achieved social cohesion by pursuing a free market economy while offering guarantees against various social risks, including job insecurity, wage disparity, poverty, and post-retirement insecurity. Northern European countries have maintained their national innovation capabilities by continuously investing in education so that the social welfare system, which comes at a high price tag, does not weaken national competitiveness.
Efforts by certain nations or by the public sector alone cannot tackle climate change and other issues that affect the entire world. Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change approved the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C. The report predicts that the lives of 10 million people could be saved by holding global warming to a 1.5°C increase over pre-industrial levels, as opposed to 2°C or more. The goal is to have all countries jointly address the problem of climate changethrough international support and cooperation.
Moreover, inclusiveness needs to be embraced worldwide. Asian countries have since 2000 BCE considered conservation of mountain forests and control of waterways as the most important virtue for successful state administration. The spirit of respecting nature is embedded within this concept of mountain and stream management. Landslides were avoided when mountainsides were forested, and damage from floods and droughts were mitigated by allowing water to flow naturally rather than damming it up. The concepts of people and nature, development and preservation were not considered mutually exclusive, and I believe that this is in line with sustainable development sought globally now.
Today, however, many nations still consider economic development and environmental protection to be separate matters. We need the developed countries and developing countries to be willing to show empathy toward the other. Now is the time when we must exhibit the power of inclusiveness that ordinary people possess and display the wisdom that people and nature should coexist harmoniously for the earth which is not just for us but also for future generations. When that happens, the dream of a new world order and sustainable development will be realized.
Individual nations have to become more inclusive so that disparities among nations can be reduced, and the people of each country need to cultivate the ability to think as global citizens. Europe’s unity and prosperity, created by ordinary citizens, can make the world a better place by inspiring courage and resolve in the rest of humanity.
6. The Greatness of the Ordinary
The way to a new world order can be found in the things that enable ordinary people to keep on with their lives and the things that let them maintain hope day to day. The people who are not identified in the history books, who are described in common noun terms such as laborers, woodcutters, shopkeepers, and students – each and every one of them should be addressed by their own names. Nations and even the world start from the “self.” We must recognize and value the fact that the world is made up of the ordinariness that does the work, dreams the dreams, and maintains life day by day.
To this end, the lives of individuals must be respected. Of course, the individual must understand how much his or her own life is worth, but that value needs to be reassessed historically and culturally as well. We should discuss and record the impact that individual actions can have on the surroundings as well as the kinds of effects that ensue when certain actions become widespread.
Turning ordinariness into greatness requires justice and fairness, not just freedom and equality. Stories told in every culture remind us of a generally held truth: good behavior is to be praised, and bad behavior is to be condemned. In East Asia, this sentiment is summed up as gwonseon jingak (勸善懲惡 promote the good and chastise evil). This simple and clear truth represents the beginning of justice and fairness. We continue to live in an era of unbridled competition, but justice and fairness must be applied universally in the order of things.
Ordinary people can grow as global citizens only when justice and fairness prevail. Everything may still appear to be in progress, yet the solution for a new world order exists in the already trodden path humanity has been on. An ancient classic in East Asia states, “When the granaries are full, [the people] understand propriety and moderation; when food and clothing are adequate, they understand honor and disgrace (食廩實而知禮節, 衣食足而知榮辱)4).” With justice and fairness, the world may share evenly the fruits of growth, which in turn empowers all. Duty springs forth, and responsibility will arise.
Those things that the world considers to be crises now must be resolved in everyday life. The tasks before us can neither be settled by a single country nor carried out on the insight of a single great politician. Assisting those in need, reducing waste, and caring for nature are activities that we need more of. When such behaviors are limited to an individual, one may ask doubtingly, “What good will it do?” However, when these small actions accumulate, the overall flow can change greatly.
Ultimately, the world can change slowly but surely by peaceful means as we protect the world and share what we have with one another. As with the everyday lives of ordinary people, Goethe’s quote “Haste not! Rest not!” rings true.
2) Soon after Park Chung-hee was assassinated on October 26, 1979, key members of the Hanahoe, a secret military club led by General Chun Doo-hwan and consisting mainly of graduates from the 11th and 12th classes of the Korea Military Academy, seized power. They organized a coup on December 12, 1979 and put down the May 18 Gwangju Democratization Movement the following year. The Hanahoe members who carried out the December 12 coup were later named “the new military junta (新軍部)” to set this group apart from the military government that had existed under Park Chung-hee.
3) The Shiji (史記 Historian’s Records) was written by Sima Qian (司馬遷) between 109 and 91 BCE. The text of more than 526,500 words is organized into 130 volumes (卷 gwon), which are organized into five different categories: Annals (本紀), in 12 volumes; Treatises (書), in 8 volumes; Tables (表), in 10 volumes; Biographies of the Feudal Houses & Eminent Persons (世家), in 30 volumes; and Biographies & Collective Biographies (列傳), in 70 volumes. The Shiji recounts Chinese history from the time of the legend in high antiquity down to Sima Qian’s own time at the end of the 2nd century BCE. The original name was Records of the Grand Historian (太史公記) but changed to the present name at the end of the Later Han dynasty.
4) From the “Biographies of Guan [Zhong] & of Yan [Ying],” in the Shiji.