Receiving Swedish royal order
By Choe Chong-dae
I was recently excited and honored to receive the Insignia of the Swedish Royal Order of the Polar Star along with my brother Choe Chong-pil, professor of archeology at Sejong University.
We were awarded the decorations on July 23 by Swedish Ambassador Lars Vargo on behalf of King Carl (Gustaf) XVI. The ceremony took place nearly half a century after my father was awarded a similar insignia from the Royal Palace of Sweden.
My ardent affection for Sweden, which has nurtured my attraction to this country, comes from stories that my late father told me when I was a child. I therefore had a powerful, imagined fascination with this kingdom from early on, and that bond has lasted throughout my life, making Sweden almost a second home.
My family’s unique connection to Sweden dates back to my father’s youth. In 1926, my father, Choe Nam-ju, a pioneer in the field of Korean archaeology, took part in the famous excavation that unearthed the golden crown at the Sobong Tomb in Gyeongju, capital of the ancient Silla Kingdom.
Among those present at the excavation was the Swedish Crown Prince, who had a particular interest in archaeology and soon befriended my father, despite the enormous difference in their social status.
The Crown Prince would later become King Gustaf (Adolf) VI, grandfather of the present King Carl XVI. My father and King Gustaf VI maintained a continuous academic friendship through letters that lasted throughout their lives.
Among the high points of this friendship was the year 1971, when my father was awarded the Insignia of the Swedish Royal Order of Vasa, Knight 1st Class, by the late king in recognition of his outstanding efforts in enhancing cultural exchanges between Korea and Sweden.
At that time, I was a freshman in university. Nevertheless, I vividly remember the ceremony awarding the insignia to my father, for it was held at the site of the Sobong Tomb, where he and the late Swedish king had done excavation work together.
Dr. Gunnar Heckscher, the Swedish ambassador to Japan, visited Gyeongju as a special envoy on behalf of the Swedish king to decorate my father with the Royal Order. He delivered a congratulatory address at the award ceremony, emphasizing that my father’s strong interest in promoting cultural exchange between the two countries should be handed down to future generations.
With that in mind, though both my father and King Gustaf VI have passed away, the unique friendship between the Royal House of Sweden and my family remains.
I had the honor some years back, on Sept. 2, 2004, of attending the reopening ceremony of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities in Stockholm. In that ceremony, I was privileged to have an audience with King Carl XVI and Queen Sylvia of Sweden.
During that meeting, I exchanged views concerning mutual interests between Korea and Sweden. The king had himself visited the Sobong Tomb in 1994, where the late King Gustaf VI had previously excavated the ancient golden crown of the Silla Kingdom, guided by my family.
The Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities in Stockholm was established in 1926 by the former Swedish King Gustaf VI. The museum’s main emphasis is also its largest archaeological collection, the many artifacts from China and other parts of Asia, including Korea.
I am delighted to learn that a Korean pavilion at the museum will open next year as a result of my family’s longstanding contributions to Korean-Swedish relations, and in cooperation with the Korean government.
The insignia that I received from the Swedish king is not only an honor for me and my family, but also for my country. I hope the decoration will help bridge the two countries by enabling me to follow in my father’s footsteps.
I also want this unique friendship to continue with future generations, as well as helping these two distant lands ― Korea and Sweden ― come together by promoting further cultural exchanges.
My fervent wish, in fact, is that a “Korean-Swedish Friendship Park” around the site of Sobong Tomb in Gyeongju will be built as a fitting symbol of the amicable relationship between the two countries.
Choe Chong-dae is the president of Dae-kwang International Co. and the Korean representative of Compagnie Cotonniere of Paris, as well as a director of the Korean-Swedish Association. He can be reached at email@example.com.