The interest of the Bulgarians in Korea increases more and more.


His Excellency Mr. Shin Maeng-ho presented his credentials as ambassador on July 29, 2013. Born on June 15, 1960, he graduated MA at the Faculty of International Relations at Seoul National University. In 1992, he specialized in the University "John Hopkins", Washington, USA.

He started working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea. From 1994 to 2006 he held the positions: second secretary of the Korean Mission in the European Union, Brussels, Belgium, First Secretary of the Embassy of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, an adviser in the Republic of Austria and Permanent Representative of Korea in the International Organizations in Vienna, Director of the Nuclear Issues Bureau in North Korea /Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade/, Head of the first Directorate on nuclear issues of North Korea. Since June 2006 he was Minister Counselor in the Korean Embassy in the Russian Federation and in December 2008 became deputy consul in San Francisco, USA. Before coming as an ambassador to Bulgaria, he worked as the head of the International Law Department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

- Your Excellency, what have you planned to mark the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Korea and the Republic of Bulgaria.

- In the beginning of the year the Bulgarian-Chinese political consultations were held which aimed to review the development of our bilateral relations and to discuss further opportunities for cooperation.

The visit of President Rosen Plevneliev in Korea in May was one of the most significant events. I will tell you more about it later. In the same month we organized a number of cultural events: Jubilee concert and reception, with special guest the Minister of Foreign Affairs H.E. Mr. Daniel Mitov, official opening of the Korean corner in Sofia City Library, an exhibition of traditional Korean crafts as well as the Education and Innovation Conference held in June.

For this autumn we have planned a Cultural Diplomacy Policy Forum in October, Korean Film Week and Ambassador’s Taekwondo Cup.

The interest of the Bulgarian audience is really increasing. This strengthens the foundation of our bilateral relations for the coming years, which is one of the main goals we hope to achieve in celebrating the first quarter-century of bilateral diplomatic relations between our countries.

- What are the strengths and weaknesses of our relationship over the years?

- Our countries share many historical, geopolitical, and cultural similarities. We both developed and maintained our distinct alphabets, we are both located in geopolitically significant regions, and have endured foreign invasions keeping our cultural identities. Our countries are based on the principles of democracy and the market economy. We are both committed to universal values of peace and human rights. These commonalities have enabled us to develop a friendly and cooperative relationship in diverse fields such as politics, the economy, society, and culture during the last 25 years.

As an EU member, Bulgaria has been an important partner in strengthening Korea-EU Strategic Partnership. Our two countries have continued our close cooperation regarding many issues on the global stage and in international organizations such as the UN and ASEM, and Bulgaria has consistently supported Korea’s policy vis-à-vis North Korea.

In 2014, the first Korea-Bulgaria Knowledge Sharing Program (KSP) was conducted, and now, the 2015 KSP is under way in the areas of state-owned enterprises, environment, and Sofia Tech Park. Recently, a Korean company began the first Korean agricultural investment in Bulgaria, the first major Korean investment since the photovoltaic plants.

Our people-to-people and cultural exchange is steadily increasing. The Korean Studies major at Sofia University became a separate department in 2010, the 18th School began teaching regular Korean classes in 2011, and the Sejong Institute opened in Sofia in 2013, bringing Korean language and culture closer to Bulgarian people. Bulgaria, which has been long known to the Korean people as a country of natural beauty, health and longevity, is increasingly becoming an attractive tourist destination for Koreans, in part due to the popularity of certain Bulgarian chefs in Korea. These are some of the strengths of our relationship.

The possibilities for increasing our cooperation on various issues still exist, of course, for example in trade, investment, science and technology.

- President Plevneliev in May visited the Republic of Korea. How did the visit go and what will follow up from it?

- As I previously mentioned, President Plevneliev’s visit to Korea in May is the highlight of our 25th anniversary. As you may already have heard, the visit was favorably received by the Korean public and media, and many people who saw and heard President Plevneliev speak were impressed by his eloquence and friendly personality. Many also noted the instant rapport between the two leaders and their visions for the future of the relations between our countries.

This vision was set forth in the Joint Declaration on the Comprehensive and Future-Oriented Partnership between the Republic of Korea and the Republic of Bulgaria which was adopted on the occasion of the summit meeting with President Park Geun-hye, the first document to specifically define our bilateral relationship. This Declaration notes with satisfaction the active development of cooperation between the two sides, and sets goals and guidelines for upgrading the bilateral relations in the areas of political and security cooperation, economic cooperation, cooperation in culture, education and people-to-people exchanges, and cooperation on regional and global issues.

A number of other memoranda of cooperation were signed between different institutions of the two countries. We are working together to find the best method and projects in order to faithfully implement these documents.

As a result of the Declaration for bilateral parliamentary cooperation the Korean Chairman of the Korea-Bulgaria Parliamentary Friendship Group and his delegation visited Bulgaria to meet their counterparts in July. On October 6 was held the Intergovernmental Joint Commission for Economic Cooperation.

- What does the agreement between the ERI-BAS and KIET envisions?

- With regard to the Memorandum of Understanding between the Korea Institute for Industrial Economics and Trade and the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences Economic Research Institute, which was signed in February, the purpose of this MOU is to establish a framework for facilitating cooperation and coordination between KIET and ERI-BAS. It envisions collaboration in the areas of exchange of information, joint research projects and activities, and joint trainings for staff members, among others.

KIET is a government-funded economic think-tank with the mission to provide information and consultation on industrial and trade policies of the Korean government as well as private sector businesses. Since ERI-BAS is a national institution tasked to identify the challenges to the long-term economic development of the country as well as to the immediate needs of the business sector, the cooperation is expected to be mutually beneficial for both institutions and countries.

- In what areas do we have opportunities to further develop our economic ties, to attract more investment, to develop industrial parks?

- To further develop our economic ties, more work needs to be done in the areas of trade, investment, and science & technology. The Intergovernmental Joint Commission for Economic Cooperation will provide excellent opportunities for the two sides to discuss ways on how to enhance our economic relations. With regard to investment in particular, several Korean businesses have expressed interest in RDF power generation, waste processing and infrastructure investment. However, as I have emphasized many times, we need a success story in order to attract more Korean investment in Bulgaria. We strongly hope that the on-going agricultural investment recently begun by a Korean company will become one such success story.

Also, the potential for increasing cooperation in science and technology needs to be further explored. Korea is a leader in technological application and innovation, and Bulgaria is well-known for its strength in the basic sciences. Science and technology bring about innovation, which in turn leads to business ventures and economic success.

- Korean Research and Innovation Center-Europe, is working for the development of relations between the ROK and European Union. What are the results of their visit to Bulgaria ?

- The KIC-Europe (Korean Research and Innovation Center-Europe) is an institute to do the role of bridge between institutes in Korea and in the EU member states to find partners for joint R&D in science and technology. It is also arranging cooperation programs between Korean and European companies in high-tech industry.

This year the President of the KIC-Europe has visited Bulgaria several times to cooperate with the Bulgarian Academy of Science and Ministry of Economy to find subjects of common interests in science and technology. Based on the joint R&D ideas presented by the Bulgarian side, the KIC-Europe is now in the process of finding Korean counterparts which show interests in cooperating with Bulgarian side. It is also planning to bring some Korean IT companies to present their technologies and find their Bulgarian partners for cooperation. да представят свои технологии пред българските си партньори.

- A rhetoric competition for young Koreans living abroad is conducted in Sofia. What is it and what is its purpose?

- I think you mean the 4th speech competition for the next generation of Koreans in Europe invited by the Korean Association in Bulgaria, which was held on February 7 in Sofia. This competition for elementary through high school aged young Koreans living in Europe is an annual event organized by the Association of Korean Residents in since 2011. So far it has taken place in Vienna, Prague, Warsaw and this year in Sofia.

The purpose of this speech competition, in which the participants have to deliver a self-written speech in Korean, is to challenge the young Koreans in Europe in the correct use of the Korean language and further to develop pride in their Korean identity.

Therefore it is very encouraging that the interest in participating is growing every year and the level of the delivered speeches is becoming higher.

Specifically this year in Sofia there was a record number of participants with 43 Korean students from 16 European countries. I personally was very impressed by the active participation of students from mixed-culture families, for whom in the majority cases Korean is not their mother tongue. But it was actually often these participants, whose speeches were most interesting and amusing, giving a different point of view – that of people who are half Korean and half European.

- Korean language and culture are a little distant for us Bulgarians. What is the policy of Korea on their promotion?

- The Korean government puts high importance in introducing and promoting the Korean culture abroad. Simply the fact that “cultural enrichment”, which also includes raising national brand image through cultural exchanges, is one of the five administrative goals of the current Korean government reflects this fact.

Against this background “public diplomacy” – which means to win the hearts and minds of people with soft power (soft power : culture, values(history, philosophy), human resources and tourism) – has become an integral part of Korean diplomacy. Specifically, this means, promoting the attractiveness of Korean culture through supporting various programs and events of Korean diplomatic missions.

In this regard, the Korean Embassy in Bulgaria, also steadily invests great efforts to make various kinds of Korean culture and values more known to the Bulgarian public. The Sofia Sejong Institute which opened in 2013 provides Korean language classes, and in March of this year the Korea Corner in the Sofia City Library, where visitors can find more than 800 books and DVDs about Korea. Moreover a lot of cultural events have been or are going to be organized by the Korean Embassy especially for this year : There was an exhibition featuring traditional Korean artwork made by intangible cultural assets from Seoul in March, an education and innovation conference was held in June and in October the 2nd Korea-Bulgaria Friendship Concert, and a cultural diplomacy policy forum co-organized with the Bulgarian State Cultural Institute is planned, followed by the annual Korean Film Festival and Ambassador’s Taekwondo Cup in November.

The response and interest from the Bulgarian public so far are quite amazing, which shows high interest and good results in annual events like K-Pop Festival (a K-Pop singing and dancing competition) and Video Contest about Korea, in which a video film made by a Bulgarian student group won the first prize this year.

Photos courtesy of the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in the Republic of Bulgaria.

1,2,3 - footage taken on the occasion of the national holiday of the Republic of Korea, which took place on October 1, 2015 in Grand Hotel Sofia.

4. The third Korean-Bulgarian friendship concert dedicated to the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Bulgaria and Korea, held on 6 October at Bulgaria Concert Hall.