The year gone by brought adjustments in the workings of many organisations, and these alterations did not bypass those that promote intercultural collaboration.  We spoke with the director of the Directorate of the Russia-Republic of Korea Dialogue Forum, St Petersburg University Associate Professor Inna Tsoy, about how they managed to switch all their bilateral projects over to the Internet, how the online format expanded the audience for their cultural events and what projects are planned for 2021.

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How many events and projects were organised in 2020 as part of the Russia-Republic of Korea Dialogue Forum?

Last year, as part of the Dialogue, the following events were organised:  on 21

August, our second literary reading took place in honour of the writer Pak Kyongni, and, on 5 November, a strategic conference was held, in which the two working groups – ‘Politics and International Relations’ and ‘Economics, Trade and Resources’ – participated.  Due to the epidemiological situation, these two events, which have already become traditions of the Dialogue, took place online.  Apart from these, representatives of the Russia-Republic of Korea Dialogue Forum took part in activities held by its partner universities (for example, Moscow State Linguistic University and Hankuk University of

Foreign Studies) or other noncommercial organisations that cooperate with the Dialogue (for example, the All-Russian Korean Association or the Kimchi Business Club in St Petersburg).

Tell us about last year’s key projects.  Why were they so important?

When it comes to the key projects of 2020, once again we can single out our second literary reading, dedicated to Pak Kyongni, as it not only brought together scholars and literary critics from Russia and the Republic of Korea, but it also attracted students who are learning the Korean language and exploring Korean culture.  This project proved to be successful in that it expanded the geography of both the participants and the audience, as they were not ‘tied down’ to any particular location but could join in from anywhere in the world.  In other words, despite all the difficulties caused by the pandemic, there were some plusses, particularly the opportunity to see and hear events and speakers from home, without going anywhere. 

Another important event in the work not only of the Russia-Republic of Korea Dialogue Forum but of the entire Russian-Korean academic and expert community was the publication of two special issues of the scholarly journal Vestnik of St Petersburg University devoted to the 30th anniversary of the establishment of relations between our two countries.  Experts from Russia and the Republic of Korea – representatives of the Dialogue – published articles on various issues of bilateral cooperation and presented up-to-date information.  The preface to one of the issues contains introductory articles by the Dialogue’s two leaders, the chairmen of the Russian and Korean coordinating committees, in which they highly praise the efforts of all the Dialogue specialist groups and provide a preliminary summary of the 30-year-long relations between the two countries.

Another memorable event of the past year was the roundtable discussion, which was held for the first time in such a format at the initiative of the St Petersburg branch of TASS and with the support of the Dialogue.  It was held in June and brought together Korean studies scholars and translators of Korean literature from Moscow and St Petersburg.  These colleagues were able to openly express their views on and forecasts for the development of Korean studies in light of the bilateral relations and intercultural contacts, to talk about translating problems and to discuss the possibilities of awareness-building both in Russia and in the Republic of Korea.  This topic was then continued in an event called

The Seventh Humanities Forum:  A Bridge of Friendship, which was held in

November and supported by the Korea Foundation, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies and Moscow State Linguistic University.  It should be mentioned that St Petersburg hosted The Fifth Humanities Forum, and this time, as then, I was able to participate as a speaker.

Mobility is very important for the Dialogue during bilateral events.  How were you able to overcome the barriers that arose last year?

Everybody will definitely remember 2020 as the year that brought us the epidemic and all of its consequences.  It had a particularly strong effect on such

organisations as the Russia-Republic of Korea Dialogue Forum or the Petersburg Dialogue, since both of them are ‘mirror’ organisations, whose activities are built on mutual exchanges and visits, on participation in bilateral seminars, conferences and other events. 

Even so, the shift to an online format did not have an adverse effect on the quality of the events that we undertook.  Participants on both the Russian and the Korean sides noted the genuine interest and involvement, and the engaging content.  They also expressed their willingness to host such events in the future.  It must be said, however, that even before the pandemic, the chairmen of the coordinating committees of the Russia-Republic of Korea Dialogue Forum had carried on a constant, friendly dialogue by means of video conferencing, and they had always synchronised their watches.  So, in a sense, the participants in the Dialogue were already accustomed to the online format right from the start.  Not to mention the Russian and Korean secretariats, which are in touch with each other almost every day, by mail, telephone and video conference.

What other possibilities did the digital format open up for carrying out activities?

In my view, the changeover to an online format, on the one hand, provided an opportunity to take an active part in activities for which, under normal circumstances, we would have had neither the stamina nor the time.  There were a lot of such events, and practically every day you could attend various online events.  This past year, which was a milestone for both countries and for the Dialogue itself (in 2020, we celebrated our tenth anniversary), cultural projects were especially relevant.

Of course, nobody has given up on the face-to-face form of working together, and as soon as the opportunity presents itself and borders can be crossed without having to go through a quarantine, traveling back and forth will resume.  It is difficult to imagine any dialogue, much less a dialogue between representatives of different nations, without face-to-face contact.  But in the present circumstances, the efforts being made by our Korean colleagues and friends in Russia, although imperfect, are still very valuable.

On the other hand, unlike the real-world format, in which, owing to technical difficulties, it is not always possible to make a video recording from start to finish, all online events are automatically recorded, making it possible to create a video library of materials, links to which are given in the text of news stories that are posted on the site. 

Can the Dialogue boast about any accomplishments or new projects?

I will reply to this question by going into a bit of detail, starting with the history of the Dialogue, in particular its founding.  First of all, I would like to take this opportunity to thank those who were on the staffs of prior Dialogue secretariats, who stood at the origins of the forum and its creation and prepared the groundwork for further contacts.

The work of today’s directorate is essentially a result of the efforts of our colleagues who preceded us on the Dialogue staff.

If, however, we speak about the years when my assistant and I began working at the Dialogue, then during this time, thanks to the efforts and assistance of a huge team of people, including staff members at research centres and educational institutions, above all St Petersburg University, where the Russia-Republic of Korea Dialogue Forum Directorate is located, representatives of Dialogue’s external partner organisations, Korean colleagues, the permanent members of our working groups of the Dialogue, representatives of diplomatic services (the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in Moscow and the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in St Petersburg), and also thanks to the work of Russian and Korean journalists, the Dialogue, as a channel of communication and platform for bilateral contacts, has become more recognisable in the information field and beyond.  During this time, it has acquired many friends and supporters, has managed to unite around itself enthusiasts who are sincerely interested in strengthening good-neighbourly relations and friendship between Russia and the Republic of Korea, has brought representatives of the Korean diaspora into its work and has also involved the younger generation in its activities.  In short, we have managed to forge horizontal and vertical friendships, and that is perhaps the most enjoyable part of our everyday work.

As for new projects, ideas are constantly popping up, but I would like to talk about them after they have been put into practice, after there are some actual results.  I can say for sure, however, that those ideas and proposals that are being advanced and discussed among colleagues in the secretariat are certainly intriguing and are simply waiting for their time to come.

Tell us about the Dialogue’s plans for 2021.

At year’s end, the Dialogue always looks ahead and makes plans for the coming year.  As of today, the Dialogue’s secretariats have put together an extensive and varied programme in which there are events that have already become traditional and new activities.  Like the year gone by, 2021 has also been declared a year of mutual cultural exchanges between our two countries, and the commemorative events are going to continue.  But all the same, we will have to wait and see how the new year unfolds in order to assess whether or not we will be able to carry out all of the plans and projects we have in mind.

From the experience of prior years, I can say that to make our plans a reality, above all we will need a well-orchestrated, concerted effort from all who participate in the process and a high degree of motivation, understanding and awareness of the purpose and significance of what we are doing.  And of course a genuine interest in the partner country.  Everything else is a matter of skill and experience.