Sunday, August 28, 2011

From Athens to Seoul

by Aristides N. Hatzis

Korean Herald

August 23, 2011

This was my first visit to South Korea and the instant reaction was pure astonishment. From Seoul, the imposing and enchanting metropolis, to Jeju Island, the magnificent tropical paradise, everything seemed so different from Western Europe and North America.

The differences with my country, Greece, were more than obvious: The high-rise buildings and the wide neat avenues circling ancient palaces in Seoul were so different from the identical and extremely ugly 6-story buildings and the streets congested by the numerous illegally-parked vehicles that embarrass the Acropolis.

However, after my first lecture, almost all my new Korean friends emphasized to me several times how many similarities there are between the two countries. Both were examples of rapid growth and economic development, of a rather successful westernization and of a steady alignment with the West during the Cold War. They were both marked by a ferocious civil war after WWII. Both countries have a tumultuous but steady liberal democratic politics achieved after years of autocratic regimes (Greece has more experience in democracy) with two major parties, one conservative and one social democratic, converging on welfare populism and government spending.

The fact that South Korea is one of the richest societies on earth, with steady economic growth, sound economic policies, good economic indicators and great achievements in industry, manufacturing, services, exports and tourism is not enough for them. The phantom of Greece frightens them as the Korean state is expanding and the same goes with their public debt ― which is only 33 percent of GDP now but is clearly on the path to reach higher numbers in the near future.


Read more about Aristides Hatzis' visit to South Korea

The President of South Korea quotes Aristides Hatzis

See another Aristides Hatzis' op-ed in The Korean Herald

Read Aristides Hatzis' op-ed in the New York Times

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