Liberal Times; Good Regionalism

Korea Times (Seoul, Korea), April 11, 2000 | Go to article overview

Liberal Times; Good Regionalism


There is a problem with political terminology. At times this complicates political discussions in an international and cross-cultural setting. It may very well happen that two individuals use the same expression but have a differing conception of what they are talking about. Take for instance the term ``liberal,'' which for me as the representative of a foundation that aspires to promote this principle, has a highly attractive flavor. I associate the word with freedom-loving, freethinking, open-minded and tolerant, to give but a few catchwords. For others, ``liberal'' may mean quite the opposite: I have come across people who associate liberalism with greed, selfishness, and yes, even with immorality or sexual decadence. Until I came to Korea some years ago, the term ``regionalism'' for me had exclusively positive connotations. As a political scientist I had learned at university about regionalism in the field of international relations, meaning a group of countries joining together to form some sort of cross-border cooperation. In domestic politics ``regionalism'' would be called a political structure or movement on a subnational level. In terms of political institutions, the equivalent to ``regionalism'' would be ``federalism.'' In Korea the connotations of ``regionalism'' are very different indeed. Here it is seen by many (if not all) as a vicious weapon in the hands of political leaders from a certain geographical area to exploit and discriminate against people hailing from another geographical area.

My intention in my most recent column (Liberal Times, March 27, 2000) had been to discuss the differing concepts of regionalism in a comparative manner. But before I got to the point of actually explaining how regionalism works in the country I come from and how benevolent a concept it has been for the political state of affairs and the economic development of the nation, the space had already been filled with some more or less critical remarks regarding what is generally understood to be ``bad regionalism'' in Korea. So here now is the second part of the story dealing with regionalism in Germany, which I do not hesitate to call ``good regionalism.''

``The Federal Republic of Germany shall be a democratic and social federal state.'' This is one of the key paragraphs of the German constitution, as it establishes the principles on which the state is based. Federalism implies that the national level of government is responsible for all those affairs that should be handled in a unitary manner in the interest of all people, leaving all other affairs to a lower level of government: In this case the 16 federal states or ``Laender'' (with them again delegating many local affairs to the lowest level of government).

Basically, it is all about sharing power and control. Sharing and checking political power is the very essence of democracy. Therefore it is no exaggeration to claim that the better the system of checks and balances is developed and functions, the better the quality of a democracy. In a democratic political setting, division of power does not take place solely between the three traditional powers -- legislative, executive and judiciary. In addition to this horizontal division of power there is, or should be, a vertical division of power and authority. In order to check the rule of one centralized government it has proven to be very useful to devolve authority and rights to lower levels. …

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