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Main | Archive | Issue 7/2008

Soft Power of Korea
Column: Diplomacy And Culture

Since its creation, the Korea Foundation has become one of the most influential organizations actively promoting the language and culture of its country on the world information market. During his short stay in Moscow, Yim Sung-joon, president of the foundation and a retired ambassador, told about its work worldwide and its programs in Russia.

- Ambassador Yim, what do you think about the interconnection and interaction between culture and diplomacy and between culture and foreign policy?
- Traditionally, diplomacy was conducted between the kings and emperors and between the courts and governments. Quite naturally, it was conducted behind closed doors, often in a secret way by specially trained envoys, the diplomats. The interaction between diplomats was usually not and is not publicized, so the public doesnt know whats happening within the walled space of diplomacy.

Cultural diplomacy is a new phenomenon and is quite different. Every government wants to project the best possible image of its country. In that case, the target is not the diplomats but the public, so it is called public or modern diplomacy. What we in the Korea Foundation are doing is not the traditional diplomacy, but the modern diplomacy of targeting the public. Here in Russia we want to get as close as possible to the Russian public.

How are we achieving this goal? Well, for example through a bilateral intellectual dialog, i.e., the Russia-Korea forum. These summer days of 2008, we are conducting the 9th forum with the participation of Russian experts on Korea, Korean politicians, diplomats and businessmen. This sort of dialog is very important for mutual understanding. You know, Russia is a very important neighbor country of Koreas, but the Korean public does not know much about Russian history, arts, and culture. I am afraid the same is true of the Russian public. So, we have to make an effort to promote mutual understanding and exchanges of information and human resources.

We also support the Korean study programs at various universities in Russia. The Foundation has already spent more than $2 million the last 20 years to expand and promote Korean studies. We have offered a lot of fellowships and scholarships for Russian scholars and Russian students. There have been about 300 Russian scholars and students who have come to Korea to study the Korean language, history, culture. This sort of activity is very effective and we will expand it.

- Does the Korea Foundation also get involved in organizing cultural events like theater performances, exhibitions, and film festivals?
- Of course, this is a very important part of our work. We spend a lot of money and make a great effort to support cultural exchanges. Russian literature, art and culture are among the best in the world. The Korea Foundation has supported Russian cultural delegations or performers visits to Korea, and we have also supported Korean arts being introduced to the Russian public. We have sent quite a few Korean musicians, dancers, painters and film industry people to Russia. They were very well received and enjoyed good press, so we will continue to do so.

- What is the Foundations counterpart in Russia? Is it the Foreign Ministry or the Ministry of Culture or maybe some nongovernmental organizations?
- I am not aware of any Russian counterpart organization, but I know that the Russian Foreign Ministry is conducting Russian cultural diplomacy and there may be Russian culture offices in Seoul. We would like to work together with Russian counterpart organizations if there are any, but up until now, we have worked mostly with Russian think-tanks like the Academy of Social Sciences, the Diplomatic Academy, and the Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

- How old is the Korea Foundation?
- The current Korea Foundation was established in 1992 with the passage of the relevant legislation by the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea. Before that, there was a similar organization introducing Korean culture and economy to the world community that I think was in existence for 40 years. Our headquarters are in Seoul and we have about 90 people working there. We maintain six overseas offices, one of them is in Moscow.

Yury Tavrovsky.
Photos by the author and Alexander Bibik.


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