Adieu to 2012, a mixed year for South Korea
Few South Koreans would say that 2012, during which economic hardship never lost its grip, was a great year for them. But it might not necessarily have been a terrible year for them, either.
Looking back on the past year, many South Koreans will likely view it as a rather challenging period, which highlighted difficulties facing the nation but also galvanised its move toward overcoming them. What we should now be reminded of is that challenges, if met with the proper response, can give us lessons and opportunities to improve.
The outcome of the December 19 presidential election, in which the winner garnered 51.6 per cent of the vote against 48 per cent for her rival candidate, explicitly showed the deep division along ideological, generational and regional lines. But in the course of their campaigns, the two main contenders, who represented the conservative and liberal blocs, had struck a similar chord on a range of issues, especially improving the livelihoods of people and reforming politics.
President-elect Park Geun-hye of the ruling Saenuri Party has filled her post-election schedule with events designed to show her resolve to take care of less privileged people and small businesses. Her defeated liberal rival, Moon Jae-in of the opposition Democratic United Party, would not have acted much differently if he was elected to succeed outgoing conservative President Lee Myung-bak.
In the closing days of 2012, probably all Koreans shared the wish that the nation, divided as it is now, will become harmonised and united through efforts toward building a more just, equal and concerted society over the coming years. A unified stance will also be crucial to cope with mounting threats to peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and the surrounding region.
For the past year, Koreans have had their ups and downs, seeing happy achievements and gloomy incidents. There has been a lot of good news that encouraged and amused us. And yet, there have been many stories that frustrated and angered us.
South Korea overtook Japan for the first time in sovereign credit ratings and saw its squad to the London Summer Olympics rank fifth in the gold medal race. Its trade volume grew to place eighth in the world. Koreans also rejoiced when the country's pop sensation Psy rocked the globe with his "Gangnam Style", and "Pieta", director Kim Ki-duk's tale of violence, poverty and salvation, won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival.
South Koreans, however, felt angry and worried about rampant corruption and abuse of power among high-profile figures and a string of sex crimes, child abuse and school violence cases. Economic difficulties continued weighing down middle-class and low-income households, with the gap widening between the rich and poor.
A recent survey showed that one in four South Korean youths has considered committing suicide over the past 12 months, suggesting there is a long way to go before realising Park's campaign slogan to usher in the "era of happiness for all people".
It warmed our hearts that the country's Salvation Army collected a record amount of donations this year amid the prolonged economic slump. What also encouraged us was the continuous increase in the number of newborns over recent months, heightening the hope of lifting the nation's birthrate from the world's lowest.
Despite different views and conflicting interests, it is all contemporary Koreans that have led the country to where it is now. Though there remains much to be addressed and improved, it is their work, even unintended, that enabled the nation to have made it this far. The time of bidding farewell to yet another year might serve as an occasion for all South Koreans to think about what is barely thought of in everyday life - they are commonly part of the mission to build a society that is prosperous, harmonious and equitable for all its members, including a growing number of multicultural families and expatriates.