|To gauge the direction of cooperation between Korea and the world, Korea.net is running a series of interviews with ambassadors to Korea. This episode features Hungarian Ambassador and Korea scholar Mózes Csoma, who expresses his thoughts on the prospects of a bilateral relationship that marks its 30th anniversary this year.|
By Yoon Sojung
Photos = Jeon Han
Video = Kim Sunjoo and Choi Taesoon
Seoul | April 16, 2019
Hungarian Ambassador to Korea Mózes Csoma knows exactly what he wants to do if the peace process on the Korean Peninsula sees major progress.
“I wish to travel to Pyeongyang directly from Seoul riding an embassy vehicle,” he said in an interview with Korea.net on April 16 at his embassy in Seoul’s Yongsan-gu District.
As the Hungarian ambassador to both Koreas and also a scholar of Korean studies, Csoma said, “Earlier in April this year, I had to stop over in Beijing to submit my credentials to North Korean authorities in Pyeongyang,” adding, “As the ambassador to both Koreas, I wish that diplomats could go directly to Pyeongyang from Seoul via the Panmunjeom truce village.”
Conducting the interview in fluent Korean, the Hungarian diplomat said both countries share a lot of common features such as valuing family and children’s education and a preference for spicy food.
On this year being the third decade of ties between Seoul and Budapest, he said, “As many events will be held to celebrate the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations, I hope that both peoples can learn more about and better understand each other’s culture.”
The following are excerpts from the interview.
– You’ve written several books on the history of relations between Korea and Hungary. As an ambassador and also a scholar of Korea, how do you see the overall development of the peace process on the Korean Peninsula?
As an ambassador to the two Koreas, I wish that foreign diplomats could go directly to Pyeongyang from Seoul via the Panmunjom truce village on an embassy vehicle. Earlier in April this year, I had to stop over in Beijing to submit my credentials to North Korean authorities in Pyeongyang. I hope that I can go directly to Pyeongyang when roads and railways are reconnected between both sides.
From the perspective of a Korea scholar, the first step toward unification of the Korean Peninsula is deciding on an official, unified view of history between both Koreas. This is because the peninsula’s history is presented quite differently in the history textbooks of each Korea. For example, South Korean history textbooks value highly the role of the ancient Silla Kingdom (57 B.C.-A.D. 935) since it unified the peninsula, whereas North Korean history books say the Goguryeo Kingdom (37 B.C.-A.D. 668) holds more significance. For the sake of promoting a unified view on history, I hope historians from both sides can hold more meetings and exchanges.
– What made you pursue Korean studies and what memories stand out while studying this field?
I first studied history and international politics. While studying history, I grew strongly interested in the 5,000-year history of the Korean Peninsula. This is because I found many similarities between Korea and Hungary. Both are small countries surrounded by stronger powers and their peoples share many similar traits.
Afterwards, I worked hard to be a Korea scholar. In 2008, I established Hungary’s first bachelor’s degree course in Korean studies at ELTE University in Budapest.
I love to visit libraries and bookshops, especially used book stores. I often discover meaningful books for my studies at used book stores. My heart raced when I visited an old bookshop outside Budapest a few years ago and found a book on Korean culture written in 1929 by Hungarian folklorist Bar’athosi Balogh Benedek (1870-1945). At an old market, I also found copies of a Hungarian-Korean dictionary published in 1957 by Sövény Aladár (1914-80), the first Hungarian scholar of Korea. It’s hard to find these books even in Hungary. I donated a copy of the dictionary to the National Hangeul Museum in March this year.
I also rediscovered a book on the history of exchanges between Koreans and Hungarians at Ewha Womans University Library. The book’s title is Hungarian Patriot Kossuth in English, 흉아리 애국자 갈소사전 in Korean and 匈牙利 愛國者 噶蘇士傳 in Chinese. This is a biography of Hungarian independence fighter Kossuth Lajos (1802-94), who fought for his country’s independence from Austria. I also believe that this book had a special influence on Korean independence fighters.
– This year marks the 30th anniversary of bilateral relations between Seoul and Budapest. How would you assess such ties?
In the late 1980s, Hungary became the first Eastern European country to establish a diplomatic relationship with Korea. Bilateral relations have since developed in all areas including politics and the economy. Many Korean companies can be found in Budapest. Also, Hungary’s national broadcast network in 2008 aired popular Korean soap operas including “Jewel in the Palace,” making Hungary the first European country in history to air Korean dramas. Many Hungarians have since grown interested in traditional and contemporary Korean culture.
– What events to mark this diplomatic milestone and held in Korea this year do you recommend?
In June, the Seoul International Book Festival will have Hungary as the main guest country. In October, a photo exhibition at the Seoul Museum of History will show pictures of Hungarian army doctor Bozóky Dezső (1871-1957), who visited Korea in 1908. The exhibition will also display photos of Seoul, Busan and the Jemulpo port of Incheon during the time of the Korean Empire (1897-1910).
The most important event comes this December, when a Hungarian cultural center will be opened in Seoul. My government has decided to mark 30 years of diplomatic relations by opening the center. I directly looked for spots for the center’s location, and it will be located in Myeong-dong, central Seoul. When the center is opened, we will host a variety of events to introduce the charms of Hungary including those of culture, tourism, food and arts.
– You assumed your ambassadorial post here in 2018. What is your goal?
I would say to open the Hungarian cultural center in Seoul and launch direct flights between Seoul and Budapest.