Its the culture, stupid!
With modernization and advances in technology the world is becoming an ever smaller place. And with it there is an ever growing need for international diplomacy.
On June 21, the 192-member U.N. General Assembly reconfirmed Ban Ki-moon, the incumbent secretary-general of the United Nations, for a second term of office from Jan. 1, 2012 to Dec. 31, 2016.
On Nov. 6, 2010, prior to the fifth G20 Summit in Seoul, I had the pleasure of interviewing Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at his residence in New York City. Ban participated in four of the last five G20 Summits and was in a position to remark on international issues in an objective manner. He had just returned from a worldwide junket: visits to a follow-up meeting in Europe on climate change, the ASEAN summit in Vietnam, the closing ceremony of the Shanghai Expo and a meeting with Chinese government leaders in Beijing.
His success has apparently had great influence on the youth of Korea. Sometime ago, I was driving down a narrow local road in Anseong, Gyeonggi Province and came across a yellow kindergarten commuter van with a notice on the rear window reading, ``Future U.N. Secretary-Generals on board.” Since his election, Ban has become a role model for many Korean youngsters. He has inspired many Korean boys and girls to turn their eyes towards prestigious international public offices. Many youngsters think of becoming a diplomat, bridging nations and cultures.
In preparation for such ambitions they may consider devoting some time to improving their foreign language skills, including English, and preparing for the state examination for a diplomatic profession in the government, which are basically the necessary steps to be taken. But once one becomes a diplomat, you are expected to carry out your duties with integrity, creativity, insight, compassion and understanding just to name a few qualities.
``It's the economy, stupid" was a phrase widely used during Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign addressing concerns over the economic recession in the U.S. Now, I would like to suggest to youngsters aspiring to hold diplomatic positions ``It’s the culture, stupid” to address the need for more cross cultural communication and understanding.
Diplomats do more than negotiate, influence or arbitrate political or economic policies between nations; they also act as a conduit for cultural and academic exchanges acting as a bridge, allowing for better communication between nations. At first glance, there doesn't seem to be an implicit connection between the arts and diplomacy.
The high arts embody the passion of not only the artist but the culture they represent, whether they be music, paintings, dance or literature. Pursuing an interest in the arts will not only allow one to better represent their own culture, but can also lead to greater understanding and appreciation of other cultures, which are great assets for any political position.
Here are a few examples of people who have realized their dreams of holding a political position and how their interest in the arts contributes to their continued success. Quite a few ambassadors in Korea are deeply involved in the arts. In diplomacy, artistic expression is an important means of fostering understanding between countries. Swedish Ambassador to Korea Lars Vargo is an active believer and practitioner of ``literary diplomacy.” He founded the Seoul Literary Society, which is a literary gathering for foreign ambassadors in Seoul, where ambassadors including those from the European Union, Spain, Denmark, the Czech Republic and South Africa participate.
The Seoul Literary Society contributes to making Korean literature better known. It also works towards publicizing works from other countries. The organizer, Vargo, is gifted with a great many different skills and talents. He has written and translated roughly 10 books during his tenure. In Korea he translated Kim Jee-ha's poem, ``Five Thieves" into Swedish. He is also a self-taught painter and recently held an exhibition in Seoul. These activities and interests gather high profile diplomats where they can promote further communication and appreciation for one another’s cultures.
There is another group of ambassadors, mostly from Latin America, reciting Korean poems in a regular gathering they call ``Korean Poetry Night,” where Peruvian Ambassador Marcela Lopez Bravo plays a leading role. On May 24, at the residence of German ambassador to Korea, Hans Urich Seidt, a ``Korean Song Singing Contest” took place with the participation of ambassadors from nine different countries.
Brazilian Ambassador Edmundo Sussumu Fujita is a very talented painter and musician. He recently held a solo exhibition in Seoul, displaying his own drawings. He also plays the piano and the recorder. I was fortunate enough to hear him play, ``Forever with you” on the piano, it still resonates within me.
The art of a nation is a window into the soul of that country. Through art, you learn about a country's many virtues that cannot be uncovered through news media or mere reports. To truly understand a nation, its culture and its people one must climb a little higher and peek into that window and get a glimpse of the soul that makes that nation tick.
The writer is a chair professor of the Catholic University of Daegu and a show host on Arirang TV. He headed the Foreign News Division of the Korea Overseas Information Service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.