State decorations are an important and happy part of a foreign ambassador’s duties.
The job was sweeter than usual recently, given that the awards from the Russian government marked the first time South Koreans were honored with the Russian Presidential Awards.
“These are the first five to be decorated with this medal so from my point of view it’s of great importance,” said Russian Ambassador Konstantin Vnukov to The Korea Herald.
From left to right: Russian literature professor Kim Hyun-taek, Korea University president Lee Ki-su, Russian Ambassador Konstantin Vnukov, Silk Road Foundation chairman Kang Duck-soo, Hanyang University director of Asia-Pacific Research Center Eom Gu-ho and Minister Counsellor Alexander Timonin. (Yoav Cerralbo/The Korea Herald)
The five honored were Korea University president Lee Ki-su, Hanyang University director of Asia-Pacific Research Center Eom Gu-ho and two from Hankuk University of Foreign Studies: Silk Road Foundation chairman Kang Duck-soo and Russian Literature professor Kim Hyun-taek.
“These five people were awarded because of their personal contributions,” said Vnukov. “They’ve promoted the Russian language and culture through their teachings or research for almost three decades and have attracted a lot of students here.”
The Russian Presidential Award is different from many awards of its kind given by other countries because each award is personally signed in the president’s own handwriting. Other nations’ awards generally come with a presidential stamp.
The decree was signed last year when both countries marked the 20th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations.
In the case of Korea University president Lee, Vnukov noted that he is not an expert on Russia but was fundamental in arranging a dialogue between the two countries’ presidents at Korea University late last year; an event that was described as a “very unusual diplomatic practice.”
“It’s essentially important not only to have dialogues at the highest levels, high levels or between bureaucrats, but even more important is between representatives of civil society like students, professors, NGOs, and so on,” he said.
Lee Ki-su explained that during President Lee Myung-bak’s visit to Russia almost three years ago, the Korean and Russian presidents agreed to establish high-level meetings between Korea University and Saint Petersburg State University in Russia.
“These two universities are of great importance because the two presidents were educated at these two schools,” he said.
In its decade-old existence, the Russian Presidential Award has honored over 600 recipients the world over.
“The selection is rather strict. We made several proposals so I was lucky that all five of my recommendations were accepted,” Vnukov said with satisfaction.
By Yoav Cerralbo (firstname.lastname@example.org)