Hungarian Amb.’s 3rd Term in Korea
By Kim Se-jeong
How likely is it to find a foreign diplomat who has served both in South and North Korea? Such is the case for Miklos Lengyel, the new Hungarian Ambassador to Seoul.
This is his second return to the Korean peninsula after serving in Pyongyang in the 1980s and Seoul in the 1990s. But this is his first assignment as ambassador, he said.
Reluctant to elaborate on his experience in Pyongyang, Lengyel sent expressed congratulations on current exchanges and meetings between the two Koreas, and wished the best for reunification.
``Especially as a person who lived there (Pyongyang) and here, I really understand the tragedy of family separation. With all our hearts, we are behind your country's efforts to unify the country,'' he said in an interview with The Korea Times.
Lengyel speaks Korean so fluently that it cannot help but impress any Korean listening to him including this reporter.
``I do speak Korean a little. I did better when I was here 10 years ago, but I forgot a lot,'' he said in Korean. To retrieve the feel of his Korean, he said he had begun to take part in a Korean lesson program through Gangnam-gu office, meeting with a tutor once a week.
Asked if there's anything more to learn, the ambassador said, he and the tutor are working on a poem translation.
``Recently over dinner with a Korean diplomat I discovered a Korean poem written about Budapest,'' which is called in its English translation, ``Death of a girl in Budapest'' written by Kim Choon-soo, a prominent Korean poet.
The poem touched on a fundamental desire for freedom and justice found in all human beings _ whether they are in Budapest or in Seoul _ by setting a girl's death during the Hungarian Revolution in 1956.
The revolution was a revolt against the Communist government in Hungary and its Soviet-influenced policies.
Lengyel has a goal to deepen the bilateral relations in education and culture, which he thinks are less cultivated than other fields of exchange between Hungary and Korea.
``I'd like to be a cultural attache. Hungarian culture has some unique elements, music and composers, and we'd like to introduce these in a broader way,'' he said.
Hungary is the motherland of many world recognized classical musicians, such as Franz Listz, Endre Szervanszky and Geroge Szell, to name a few, and it is a popular destination for Korean music students.
The ambassador also emphasized the importance of educational exchange, and said he hopes to see cooperation in that field in the near future.
Besides, the ambassador poured out a few more things to connect Hungarians and Koreans.
Both languages have the same root of the Ural-Altaic. Evidence is easy to find, he said, in how both languages write names. ``In Hungarian, the last name comes before the first name like Korean.''
Another one that's little known is about Ahn Eak-tae, the Korean composer who wrote the Korean national anthem ``Aegukga'' in 1935. Ahn once was a student at Zoltan Kodali, a famous Hungarian music conservatory, studying composition.
Hungary is the first country in the Eastern Europe that Korea built the diplomatic ties with. As early as 1892, the two countries agreed on trade, and in 1989 signed to open embassies. Bilateral trade is put at $ 1.6 billion on average, the ambassador said. Main trading goods are automobiles, electronic appliances, pharmaceutical and agricultural products.
Last year Korean investment in Hungary was nearly $ 1 billion. Hankook Tire and Samsung are the biggest Korean investors in Hungary with manufacturing lines of TV components and tires. Especially Hankook Tire is the biggest single investment in the entire Hungary, Lengyel said. Still he hopes to see more direct investment from Korean firms.
Lengyel said 10 years are long enough time for changes, but what he saw upon his arrival was ``beyond my expectation.''
One day, the ambassador was invited to a soccer match. ``Automatically, I thought of Jamsil Olympic Stadium. But when I got there, people said it was not the Olympic stadium in Jamsil, but the World Cup stadium in Mapo,'' Legyel said. ``See, that's one example of the changes.
He is a big soccer fan, but he said he might start to learn how to play golf, which he expected would meet the growing need as a diplomat.
He lives with his wife and three children.