Last fall, coinciding with the 30-year anniversary of diplomatic relations between Hungary and the Republic of Korea, the Korean Cultural Center in the Hungarian capital, the second largest worldwide and the largest in
Europe, was officially re-opened at a new location.
“Hungary is one of the most important countries for the Republic of Korea. When Korea was trying to seek new diplomatic relationships in Central Europe 30 years ago, Hungary was the first country to accept our call. Today, the largest Korean cultural community in Europe, around 200 people, exists in Hungary. Another point worth mentioning is that it was in Hungary that the Korean drama, ‘Jewel in the Palace’ was aired on television before anywhere else in Europe in 2008, and it was a key element of the Korean Wave on this continent,” the Director of the Korean Cultural Center in Budapest, Dangkweon Lee tells Diplomacy&Trade.
A unique place
When the Korean Cultural Center re-opened in November last year, it also meant continuing work at a new location in the Hungarian capital, in a new, more spacious building. (The original Center in Budapest was opened in 2012.) The Director says that “the new Center focuses on showing various aspects of Korea, from the traditional heritage to the modern scenes of the country. In addition, we provide courses where Hungarian people can learn about, and engage in, Korean culture. The new building has a unique interior design and many visitors say they enjoy it more than our previous place,” he highlights.
The new 8,000-sqm facility provides venue for a host of activities like Korean language courses, taekwondo training, K-pop culture, cooking classes, Korean crafts, etc. When it comes to naming the most popular with the Hungarian audience, Dangkweon Lee says these are the Korean language courses of the Sejong Institute and the cooking classes.
Most Hungarians, who love Korean pop culture like K-POP, Korean movie and drama, finally come to learn Korean language to understand them more deeply. And as Korean food is known as a healthy diet with various vegetables and tasty dishes, more and more Hungarians are showing interest in Korean cooking classes. “That is why we will premiere our online cooking class series in September to introduce the four most popular food items in the harvest season,” he points out.
As is the case everywhere in the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has had its impact on the operation of the Koran Cultural Center, as well. The Director stresses that they value their visitors’ and employees’ health and safety above all other things. “Therefore, after the lockdown, almost all our programs were cancelled or postponed until the later part of this year and eventually, we closed the center to the public.
For now, we promote Korean culture and arts through alternative platforms such as online or outdoor screenings, online exhibitions and so on. We have premiered 17 performances in a variety of genres from contemporary dance to traditional music since the outbreak within the framework of our project ‘We deliver Korean culture to your home’. We created a 3D exhibition for the Hungarian audience, and we are currently working on a complex online exhibition project, which will not only contain a new exhibition, but it will be an archive of the past exhibitions, too.”
One of the flagship events of the Korean Cultural Center annually is the Korean Film Festival in Budapest. This year, it will be the 13th festival and will feature 22 films. From Dangkweon Lee’s experience, he knows the Hungarian audience likes various aspects of Korean films, therefore, the Center has created diverse sections to meet their expectations. “We focus on helping the Hungarian audience enjoy the past, the present and the future of Korean films. Hungarians can get acquainted with Korean cinematic
thinking in many genres from action-comedy through political drama to avant-garde fantasy documentary. In addition to the Korean cinema, the film festival, which this year also focuses on feminism, tries to promote the importance of mask-wearing and blood donation in the current epidemiological crisis, as well. All blood donors at the Hungarian Red Cross Center get a Korean eco-bag and everyone who comes to the festival is given free facemasks.
Hoping to open again soon
Kim Tae Hoon, the Director of the Korean Overseas Culture and Information Service at the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism of the Republic of Korea said at the opening ceremony of the new Korean Cultural Center last year that the institute “will become more than a space to promote the Korean culture to the Hungarian audience…, it will become the symbolic space of the friendship between Hungary and Korea.” This Center in the Hungarian capital has a goal to be a cultural hub where Hungarian and Korean communities can meet and collaborate.
“Various collaborations have already started with Hungarian partners, even though COVID-19 spoiled many opportunities we could have had in cooperation with Sziget Festival, the Budapest Photo Festival, and others. In the fall of this year, we are going to organize an online group exhibition of Hungarian and Korean artists,” Dangkweon Lee highlights.
Regarding the plans of the cultural center for the coming months, he says that “we sincerely hope to open the Center again soon. Until the end of the COVID-19 period, we will continue to deliver online programs to the Hungarian audience.”
(This article was published in the Korean Focus of the September 2020 issue of Diplomacy&Trade.)