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Citizenship: A Prerequisite for Overcoming Crisis

Citizenship: A Prerequisite for Overcoming Crisis

KIM Sun-Bin

Mar. 30, 2009


Welcome to our video program. I’m Sun-Bin Kim from the Public Policy Research Department.

Not long ago, US President Barack Obama said “We have to unite and share in a spirit of sacrifice and responsibility in order to overcome the crisis facing us today. This is what Americans are.”

Times may change, but the enduring belief in overcoming hardship through concerted action continues. Particularly in a crisis, where the environment changes dynamically, it is almost impossible for any country to come up with a perfect solution. With more complex interests and relations among concerned parties, it has become more difficult for leaders to resolve situations for themselves. In other words, this is a time when the power of social cohesion is needed most. This is why leaders of countries worldwide, including US president Obama, have appealed for the cooperation of their people. Today, we will take a close look at the concept of citizenship, a prerequisite to overcoming a crisis.

“Citizenship” refers to the rights, duties, and values of citizens. Citizenship requires moderation in pursuit of private interests and, if necessary, cooperation with other groups with conflicting interests.

When a society falls into a crisis, its members can be categorized into the following four types . coexistence, confrontation, discontent, and adaptation. This represents variations in the degree of citizenship possessed by the people.

Looking back in history, it is not difficult to find that coexistence-type citizens have made great contributions in states which succeeded in overcoming crises. In Ireland, for example, which faced a fiscal crisis in 1987, the citizenship of political leaders, including Alan Dukes, the leader of the opposition Fine Gael, played a critical role in getting out of the crisis. Instead of opposing the reforms of the republican government, they put aside their partisan interests and cooperated actively, clearing the way for the Irish economy, once the sick man of Europe, to become the “Celtic Tiger.”

Another example is the Netherlands which suffered low growth and a decline in jobs in the early 1980s. Under these circumstances, labor and management reached a great compromise on job sharing through the reduction of work hours and salaries as a way to overcome the crisis. Such citizenship paid off even in crisis because the Netherlands has a long tradition of bottom-up consensus.

When a society is ruled by confrontational or discontented members, the crisis often deepens. The miners union of the UK, for example, stuck to its uncompromising stance in the 1970s when the country’s fortunes were on the wane, and achieved a 35% increase in salaries, eventually driving the country into the “Winter of Discontent.”

The Peronist Coalition of Argentina also acted as a stumbling block against recovery from the crisis. While carrying out movement of anti neo-liberalism, the Peronists expressed their complaints in an illegal way by taking over the roads. The Peronists’ exhausting resistance to reforms has eventually led to social disorder and national bankruptcy.

The adaptational type tends to refrain from violent resistance or active protest even when they oppose government policies, while having a cooperative attitude in overcoming crises. These people at the very least do not act as an obstacle in resolving crises. During the Great Depression, for example, Republicans kept a passive opposition/acquiescence stance towards Roosevelt’s New Deal policy. They did not try to filibuster although they were ideologically opposed to it.

As such, “citizenship,” or taking a compromising attitude and promoting cooperation and co-existence plays an important role in helping society recover from a crisis and take a new leap forward. To turn a society into one where citizenship can be exercised well, societies need to minimize the possibility of social conflicts through the establishment of systematic communication channels.

To create a better atmosphere where coexistence-type social members can play a more active role, societies need to build up a policy partnership between the government, political parties, research institutes and civil groups. In particular, it is necessary to encourage the activities of mediation-specific NGOs, aimed at facilitating the problem- solving process.

From a long-term perspective, societies need to strengthen civics education that young people receive in schools and society. To design and strengthen better civics education one can learn from the cases of the UK and the US. British schools require civics as a compulsory subject for students and offer experience-centered programs, while the US is running a variety of civics programs led by civics education centers.

Thank you for watching. I’m Sun-Bin Kim.

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