Korea and democracy go together, says DCF founder

임정원 2022. 5. 17. 15:14
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Achilles Tsaltas, president of the Democracy and Culture Foundation, sat for an interview with JoongAng Ilbo. He stressed Korea's role in promoting democracy, and advised that Korea speak out more in the international community.
Achilles Tsaltas, president of the Democracy and Culture Foundation, sits for an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo Monday. [WOO SANG-JO]

"Korea is by all accounts the most thriving democracy on the continent of Asia. Korea sets a great example as a democratic country, as it is through hardship that you learn and you are able to create more balance. I hope Korea will be more outspoken in the international community," said Achilles Tsaltas, president of the Democracy and Culture Foundation (DCF), in an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo on Monday.

Tsaltas visited Korea for the DCF International Forum to be held in Seoul on Tuesday. The DCF held a forum in Sydney on May 11, Seoul on Tuesday, and will hold forums in Washington, D.C. on May 20, Berlin on June 3 and Tel Aviv on June 10. The theme that will run through all five forums is “Re-imagining the Building Blocks of Democracy.”

These five forums are held as part of the Athens Democracy Forum, an international conference hosted by the New York Times since 2018, and is currently being hosted by DCF, a non-profit foundation founded by Tsaltas.

The insights gathered from the five forums held in each country will be reviewed at a meeting in London in July. Each forum is held in cooperation with a prominent think tank in the host country, and in Korea, Taejae Academy was the partner.

The following are edited excerpts of the interview.

Q. Why did you group democracy and culture together?

A.Democracy is obviously a question of culture. If you don't have culture and the arts, you can't have creative thinking, and you can't have freedom of expression. And for democracy to thrive, you need that mindset of culture. I think culture can exist without democracy. But democracy cannot exist without culture.

Why did you choose Seoul to hold your forum?

Irina Bokova, the former Director-General of Unesco, recommended Korea and I said “yes” immediately. Korea has the most vibrant democracy in all of Asia. The diversity is immense here, but in terms of political systems, the political system in Korea is one that is working very vibrantly. The West acknowledges the hardship that Korea has gone through, and has admiration for where it is now.

How can Korea contribute more to the development of democracy?

What I noticed in Korea, while visiting in the early 90s and returning in the late 90s and 2000s, I could see much more creativity here on the humanities side. I could see creativity on the culture side, fashion, the arts, and you need that creativity for democracy to thrive.

The West doesn’t really understand the East. Whereas the East certainly understands the West better. If there is a way for Korea to help the West, understand not only Korea, but Asia and even China, that would be good. Because the West has more affinity with Korea, I think there’s more of a chance of the West learning from Korea than learning from other countries. We have better chemistry. Democracy is working, it’s vibrant, so there’s a lot of respect in the West because of that. So I think Korea could be a very good conduit in this big challenge of the U.S.-China relationship.

What do you think of the argument that democracy is in crisis in many parts of the world?

Looking at what happened in France, and yes, Macron won, but let’s not forget by a small margin that in the first round, the extreme left and extreme right parties, which is what populism is about, got almost 55 percent. But looking at Greece, Greece has turned a corner with populism, and hopefully France will do the same.

Democracy is certainly facing a lot of challenges. And that’s what we are here to discuss in Korea.

What is special about the DFC?

The belief that we have in our foundation is a little bit different to other democracy foundations. Others want to defend democracy. We don’t believe that democracy needs to be defended.

Democracy is an evolving system of governments, it's resilient. It can change. And when you talk about defense, it's almost like you want to go back to what it was and defend it. I think the philosophy in our foundation is how can we help democracy evolve in the very different world that's coming. Like in the world of AI and quantum computing, this biotech revolution that we're going through is producing a very different society. So democracy has to adapt. Citizens don’t have to adapt to democracy, democracy has to adapt.

How is the forum being held in Seoul structured?

We were able to secure a partnership with Taejae Academy thanks to the help of Ban Ki-moon, and the theme of the forum’s discussion will be power of executives, that is, the power of lawmakers. On Tuesday, there will be a round table of experts, and on May 27 we will have a citizen panel to discuss the theme. So Tuesday’s session is one where the experts will get together. Not just politicians, but experts, academics, business people. They will come up with a suggestion of two or three policy recommendations.

BY CHUN SU-JIN [chun.sujin@joongang.co.kr]

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