By Kim Heung-sook
Dear Aiko, how are you? I hope you weren’t hurt during your first-ever public expression of righteous anger because you will have to do what you did in the heart of Tokyo on Sunday again and again in the future. Yes, you have a busier life ahead like us here in Seoul, taking to the streets to lower the skyrocketing fee of higher education.
Each nation has its own enigmatic weaknesses which few outsiders can comprehend. Look at us. Ours is a country where more than 80 percent of high school graduates go to college or university only to end up as highly educated jobless after spending as much as 40 million won for four years on campus.
The government has kindly introduced a loan system under which collegians can borrow money for tuition and living expenses and repay them with interest after graduation. Acts of kindness, however, often result in damage to the would-be beneficiary unless thoroughly planned, and it is not uncommon for these graduates degrade to become credit defaulters the moment they leave the campus.
After the tragic earthquake and gigantic tsunami that jolted northeastern Japan on March 11 and subsequent disasters in and around the nuclear reactors in Fukushima, it was almost odd, if not weird, to observe your people remain so calm, at least on the surface. You have lost more than 23,000 people and the invisible Hades called radioactivity is haunting your country.
To be frank, we had a hard time figuring out how and why you were not crying out loud against your government’s incompetence and its suspicious claims, although we knew your time-honored tendency of quiet conformity. If we were in your shoes, our faces might be tanned and our voices husky as we had stayed on the street chanting anti-government slogans night and day.
Your people staged the first public protest after the Fukushima disaster on the streets of Tokyo on March 27, calling on the government and the Tokyo Electric Power Co. to close the atomic power plants in your country. The protesters were estimated to number around 1,200, way too small when the seriousness of the matter is taken into account.
In sharp contrast, however, on Sunday about 20,000 people took part in the street demonstrations for a ``No Nuke” campaign; the number is still small in light of the capital’s 13 million residents or 10 percent of the total Japanese population, yet it shows a tremendous increase from the previous figure. Participants included young mothers like you who wanted a safer Japan for their children and senior citizens who didn’t buy the government’s argument that nuclear energy couldn’t be scrapped for economic reasons despite the latest calamities.
In a separate yet relevant action, Italians rejected a referendum on Monday over the government’s move to restart nuclear plants shut down soon after the 1986 disaster in Chernobyl, Ukraine, and pundits say the rejection owed much to the Fukushima disaster. Voter turnout was as high as 57 percent and the embattled Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said it showed ``a will on the part of citizens to participate in decisions about our future that cannot be ignored.”
It is a lamentable shame that governments, elected to serve their people, not only falter but also become unreliable, but there always have been such failures and they, however grave, didn’t end the ill-fated nations as they had the electorates as backup. Discontented and frustrated as they may be, the citizens would come out to topple or reprimand the untrustworthy administrations and take remedial steps.
What you did on the street, I believe, is the beginning of a grand rectification process some may call ``revolutionary.” In another Tokyo-datelined dispatch, I have read that housewives were measuring radioactive contamination in their areas with leased Geiger counters as they couldn’t trust the government-provided statistics. I sincerely hope your government will do what your people dictate before they become more aggressive in expressing their indignation and just demands.
Dear Aiko, your people are sharing with us Koreans, the Italians and the entire world citizens what you have learned through your tragic experience and for that we are grateful. Please keep up the good work while we wrestle with our imminent problem of tuition and join you and others for more universal causes.