Welcome, Your Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden
On the occasion of the Yeosu 2012 Expo, heads of state, foreign dignitaries and even royalty are honoring Korea with their presence. I am delighted to learn that King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden have embarked on a state visit to Korea at the invitation of President Lee Myung-bak and will remain in our country for a few days. My brother Dr. Choe Chong-pil, a professor emeritus of archeology at Sejong University, and I have been honored with an invitation to the welcoming dinner for the king and queen of Sweden hosted by the President of Korea at the Blue House on the evening of May 30, 2012.
Sweden, world famous for its comprehensive national social welfare system and the Nobel Prize, is in distant Scandinavia in northern Europe. It is far from the Korean Peninsula geographically but it has never been far from my heart. My fascination for Sweden, an almost magical land for me, derives from tales my late father told me when I was growing up. I learned that the king of Sweden enjoys universal popularity and that Swedish citizens are proud to have been able to preserve their royal heritage, one of the oldest in world history, throughout the nation’s historical evolution to an advanced constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy.
Nearly nine decades ago, Korea was honored by a visit of the Swedish crown prince, who was later enthroned as King Gustaf VI Adolf of Sweden. The crown prince was greatly interested in archeology and was touring ancient sites in East Asia with his wife, Princess Louise. While in Korea in 1926, he participated in the archeological excavation of an ancient tomb in Gyeongju, the capital of the ancient Shilla dynasty.
My father, Choe Nam-ju, was a pioneer in Korean archeology and joined this famous excavation that unearthed a splendid golden crown at the Sobong Tomb with the crown prince, grandfather of the present King Carl XVI Gustaf. The crown prince was praised for the discovery of this spectacular treasure. He told the excavation team that “the discovery of the ancient golden crown surpasses becoming king.” The media at home and abroad proclaimed that the “future king of Sweden is more interested in the ancient crown of Shilla than his own Swedish crown!”
My father became a close professional colleague of the late king despite disparity in social status even before official diplomatic ties were established between the Republic of Korea and Sweden. My father devoted himself to promoting international cultural exchanges between the two countries throughout his life until he passed away in 1980.
I vividly remember a great number of inquisitive Swedish visitors ventured to our old home in Gyeongju to call on my father when I was a young student in the early 1960s. I frequently took them to the Sobong Tomb site although I didn't speak English well then. Although both my father and King Gustaf VI Adolf have both left this world, the unique friendship between Sweden and my family continues. His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf, grandson of the late King Gustaf VI Adolf, visited the site of Sobong Tomb and planted a commemorative tree there in 1994. He visited the unique historical remains, led by my archeologist brother and observed the evergreen fir tree planted by his distinguished grandfather that still grows in the yard of the former National Museum of Gyeongju. The present king was deeply inspired by his grandfather’s archeological achievement.
A high point in the friendship between Korea and Sweden was noted when my brother and I were awarded the Royal Swedish Order of the Polar Star. We were thrilled to receive the honor nearly half a century after our father was awarded the insignia of the Swedish Royal Order of Vasa, Knight, First Class in 1971.
The presentation of the three decorations of the royal Swedish orders to our family was in recognition of our efforts to enhance cultural exchange between Korea and Sweden. The decorations will strengthen ties between Korea and Sweden.
Their Majesties King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia attended the inauguration of a new Korean Hall at the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities in Stockholm in February earlier this year. Although I was unable to attend the event, I had the honor of having an audience with the king and queen at the reopening ceremony of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities in Stockholm in September 2004. Since then, our family has played a significant role in establishing the Korean Hall at the museum in cooperation with Korean government
I believe the present Swedish king’s state visit to our nation will deepen bilateral ties between Korea and Sweden. My family has a strong relationship with Sweden that spans three generations and will be passed on to the future. I will continue to devote myself to promoting cultural exchanges between the two countries as will my sons. Our respect and admiration for Sweden is long abiding!
Choe Chong-dae is a guest columnist of The Korea Times and the president of Dea-kwang International Co., as well as a director of the Korean-Swedish Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.