MERS, Grexit and politics

The entire country had been plunged into fear by Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, but it now seems to be under control. Relentless night-and-day efforts by doctors, nurses and other medical professionals were critical in overcoming this odd disease known to have originated from camels in the desert. The excellence of Korean medical capacity and responsibility has been proven to be at the world’s highest level. Korea has now accumulated enough know-how; it seems, to tackle any communicable disease.

Now that we’ve regained normality from the MERS’s fear, we find that the National Assembly is in a mess. Some people say that Korea’s politics seems more fearful than MERS, as the Assembly is torn apart over partisan battles. Unspeakable personal criticism has been targeted at President Park Geun-hye after she vetoed a revision to the National Assembly Act, saying it was unconstitutional. What is going on? I can’t make sense of this situation ― there are too many public welfare bills for the Assembly to take care of instead of fighting over a vetoed one.

The problematic part of the Assembly’s decision on the National Assembly Act is that the bill was designed to empower parliament to demand amendments to government ordinances, which may be translated as an encroachment on executive power. I also believe that it is out of line with the principle of separation of powers among the legislative legal, administrative and judicial branches ― the very backbone of our democratic system. The President objected to the bill and returned it back to the Assembly. After reconsideration, if two-thirds still approve, the President’s veto becomes invalid, while the bill becomes dead if less than two-thirds approve. The President only exercised the legal veto power allowed by the Constitution, and the Assembly did not gain the necessary two-thirds majority approval, which should then end the discussion; it is not right to continue to attack the President.

It is time that we stop these factional fights like the ones from the Joseon era 200-300 years ago and get ready for the impact the Greek financial crisis will have on us. Whatever happened to Greece with all its past glories? Millions of tourists from every part of the world travelled far and spent big money to see what the Greeks’ ancestors accomplished. The Greeks earned easy money for decades, but money entered easily is bound to exit easily as well. Moreover, the Greeks have become complacent with their abundance of benefits and an overgenerous welfare system; most of their public facilities, including subways and buses, are free of charge. However, with the passage of time, tourism declined while the Greeks made no attempts to improve their assets to keep the tourism industry competitive and vibrant. Income naturally declined, while spending kept on rising.

Despite barely surviving through enormous support from the European Union’s Central Bank and IMF, Greece did not cut their spending enough and kept the welfare spending high. It is natural for the creditor nations to press Greece toward stronger austerity measures to reduce pension and welfare spending and increase taxes to repay the debt. In the midst of all this, a former member of the Communist Youth of Greece, Alexis Tsipras, became the Prime Minister. Arousing the public through a traditional leftist method, Tsipras asserted that Greece would withdraw from EU membership if its creditors do not write off 30 percent of their debt. Greece held a national vote that resulted in a “no” result to the bailout referendum, but that had no effect whatsoever.

Korea went through a harsher time during the Asian financial crisis, but Korean citizens scrapped their wedding bands and gold necklaces to donate to the government in support of the country. The efforts resulted in the early repayment of the debt by an entire year. An alien disease, MERS, created confusion at first, but it was under control in just a month’s time with our collective efforts. Isn’t it time for this ugly factional battle that has gone on for the past 300 years to finally disappear?

It only took us three years to pass the Constitution when the US spent 13 years to pass theirs, and we’ve never annulled our Constitution, nor dissolved the National Assembly. The Republic of Korea is the only nation that achieved a democratic political system and became an economic powerhouse in such a short time span.

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The fighters in our society

South Korea is a nation of envy for many developing countries. The Republic of Korea is at the forefront of the state-of-the-art technology, and Korea’s medical technology has won world’s accolades for its excellence.

In terms of democracy, Korea took only three years to pass its Constitution, whereas the US Congress took 13 years. It has been a little more than half-a-century since the establishment of the Republic of Korea, but the Korean democracy is already firmly rooted.

With such achievements, Korea is perceived as amodel nation by the world, and the nation that most rapidly established democratic political institution. Although there were numerous struggles and hiccups on the way, our accomplishments are the results of every Korean’s relentless efforts.

Korea, with so many proven strengths, will not falter by the MERS or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. Some say that Korea is under God’s curse for punishment, but that can’t be true.

The Korean Christians were eager to do the work of God by reaching out to the poorest parts of the world and building schools and hospitals. Korean Americans have also sent many evangelists to various parts of the world. God will certainly bless us.

According to the press, Korea’s culture of paying visits to comfort the sick is one of the main causes for the spread of MERS. One foreign press reported that it is customary in Korea for friends and family to visit the sick with fruits and other gifts, and there are many instances where a church congregation visits the sick to pray and sing hymns to wish for a rapid recovery.

The second cause is attributed to a national health insurance system that ensures affordable medical services to the nation’s citizens. Koreans have the tendency to visit doctors for minor symptoms and “shop-around” for second opinions by more prominent doctors at bigger medical centers.

On the side of the hospitals, they tend to accept patients indiscriminately to meet the operation costs; at Samsung Seoul Medical Center, one of the most prominent medical centers in Korea, approximately 8,500 patients visit the hospital on any given day. With 1,800 beds at the hospital all filled with a long wait list and a crowded lobby packed with inpatients, outpatients and their friends and families, the scenes at Korean hospitals are quite susceptible to the spread of contagious diseases like MERS.

It is clear that MERS is now under control, as evident from the decreasing number of patients isolated for test and treatment. For those still isolated, I hope they will persevere despite all the discomfort for the next couple of weeks for the sake of public health.

During the Asian financial crisis , often called the “IMF crisis,” Koreans practiced an unprecedented patriotism unseen in other countries through donating gold rings and silver spoons in their possession to help their country in crisis. We are a proud people strong in the face of adversity.

When my American friends ask how Korea was able to grow in such a short timeframe both economically and democratically, I always mention “gold rings and silver spoons” during the IMF crisis as an example of the Korean spirit. They all nod when I assert that Greece and Spain need to learn from us Koreans.

I was once again touched as I read the newspaper this morning. One health official in Seoul’s Dongjak district clinic has spent the entire June at the office without once going home, sleeping on a makeshift bed in the corner.

He says he parks the ambulance far away to deter people from the fear of MERS that’s associated with ambulances these days. Such people fighting against the spread of MERS at the forefront are at stark contrast to the politicians whose empty words and promises see no actions.

I saw young college students lining up to write words of encouragement to medical personnel fighting against MERS on a public bulletin at a university medical center. I believe this is the genuine look and strength of Korea, and it made me trust that MERS will soon disappear from our territory.