(The Soviet Union team is entering 1988 Seoul Olympics Main Stadium, waving their hands to the citizens of Seoul with a bright smile. The Soviet Union’s participation imprinted the 1988 Seoul Olympics on the mind of citizens of the world as the Olympics of peace and harmony. It became a foundation for Seoul-Moscow exchanges begun in 1990.)
“Seoul-Moscow cooperation programs after the 1991 sister city agreement”
In July 1991, Seoul and Moscow signed a sister city agreement, 10 months after they had established diplomatic ties on September 30, 1990. Russia is a neighboring country sharing a border line with the Korean Peninsula. In 2019, Russia was the 10th biggest trade partner of the Republic of Korea. The number of tourists increased approximately 25 times from 30,000 in 1990 to 777,000 in 2019. The trade amount grew from USD 880 million in 1990 to USD 22,340 million, by approximately 25 times as well. Samsung Electronics ranked first with the largest smartphone market share (21.1%) and Hyundai Motor Company and Kia Motors recorded the second-largest car market share in Russia (23.1%) as of 2019.
Although they have been active in economic exchanges since their diplomatic ties, Seoul and Moscow remain “unfamiliar” with each other. As a result of a joint questionnaire survey conducted from 2016 to 2017, 55% of Korean respondents and 66% of Russian respondents answered that they didn’t know well about or were not interested in their counter country. A variety of cooperation programs were conducted after the Seoul-Moscow exchange and cooperation program had been signed in April 1996 and the Day of Seoul and the Day of Moscow had been made in 2004. Most of the programs, however, were one-time events.
Diplomacy using “gentle charms” such as good systems, social values and attractive culture and art of one society are good ways to win favor without evoking aversion. This method is more efficient in cities and the private sector than nations. Inevitably, diplomatic activities led by a nation’s leader and central government, in many cases, is based on real issues such as military and economic strength, showing a relatively “formal national power.” The year of 2021, the 30th anniversary of the Seoul-Moscow sister city agreement is just a few months away.
Recently, Pavel Leshakov, the Councilor of the Embassy of the Russian Federation to the Republic of Korea, and Ekaterina Popova, the Honorary Mayor of Seoul and a professor at the Department of Russian Language and Literature of Sungkyunkwan University, discussed exchanges and cooperation between the two cities.
(from left) Pavel Leshakov, the Economic Councilor of the Embassy of the Russian Federation to the Republic of Korea; Ekaterina Popova, the Honorary Mayor of Seoul; and Kim Chang-jin, a professor at the Social Fusion Autonomous Department of Sungkonghoe University and the moderator of the discussion, standing in front of the Seoul City Hall before a wrap-up discussion of the special series titled “30th Anniversary of Seoul-Moscow Exchanges” on September 28
“We Need Citizens’ Initiative to Install a Russia Culture Center”
Councilor Leshakov and Professor Popova said that the strengths of Seoul include good amenities, public transportation, safety and a variety of cultural programs for citizens. Moscow has an outstanding research workforce in basic science. In addition, Yandex, an IT company, launched a mobile app for taxi booking in 2011, which shows that Moscow has strengths in the quaternary sector of the economy.
There are endless possibilities for both countries to develop together by expanding exchanges based on their strengths. According to Councilor Leshakov, only 0.5% of South Korea’s foreign investment — USD 2,63 million — was invested in Russia in 2019. Then, how can we break the 30-year-old indifference from the two countries? Both Councilor Leshakov and Professor Popova agreed that active human exchanges could be the start. Most of the conditions have been already met.
“Many Korean people feel close to Vladivostok and want to take the Trans-Siberian Express.” (Professor Popova)
“The Korean language is very popular in Russia. In the Institute of Asian and African Studies of Moscow State University, the number of students who wanted to major in the Korean language was normally around 8 but last year, 20 students applied for Korean language major. Korea’s popularity is at its peak.” (Councilor Leshakov)
Councilor Leshakov and Professor Popova said that above all, Russia culture center should be installed in Seoul to maintain active exchanges not only for the next year, but for the decades to come. Professor Kim Chang-jin, the moderator, said, “Korean Culture Center has been providing a variety of programs since it opened its doors in Moscow in 2006 whereas Seoul still has no Russian culture center.”
Councilor Leshakov said, “In 2021, ‘Russia Seasons’ will be held in the Republic of Korea throughout a year to proudly introduce Russian culture and art. The Seoul Metropolitan Government should utilize this event to promote Russia to its citizens.” In 2019, the 100th anniversary of the March 1st Movement of the Republic of Korea, the I·SEOUL·U Peace Delegation promoted Seoul widely in Vladivostok, Irkutsk and Moscow. In addition, they uploaded the video clips of their journey of peace on their social media. Many measures should be taken to introduce Russian culture to the citizens of Seoul in the fall of 2021, celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Seoul-Moscow sister city agreement. We are expecting for a Seoul-Moscow exchange initiative to begin for the well-organized “Day of Seoul” and “Day of Moscow” in both cities.
*This article was written by reediting a special article titled “30 Anniversary of Seoul-Moscow Exchanges” published in Seoul&.