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[Diplomatic News] With Neither Pay Nor Privileges, Honorary Consuls Serve Korea

[Diplomatic News] With Neither Pay Nor Privileges, Honorary Consuls Serve Korea

Posted July. 29, 2005 03:04,   


Last February, three Korean men who were studying in Saint Petersburg, the second largest city in Russia, were seriously beaten by Russian ultra-rightist skinheads. Even though this incident needed the prompt action of the Korean embassy in Russia located in Moscow, diplomatic officials who were in charge of this were not able to reach them. This is Kim Gi-eum (Kim Alexander), a Korean living in Russia, who rushed to the scene and handled the aftermath of the incident. Kim is an honorary consul of Korea

Honorary consuls’ passion for their work is no less than that of professional diplomats. There are a total of 122 who have been appointed as honorary consuls by the Korean government. They have no pay and no privilege as consuls because their positions are honorary. Despite this, whenever incidents take place, honorary consuls rush to the scene first. They don’t even hesitate to spend their own money and their own time.

We can say they play a spearheading role in diplomacy. As of September of 2004, there are 186 countries which have diplomatic ties with Korea. However, there are only 130 embassies and consulate generals in 95 countries due to financial pressures and a manpower shortage. Even though nearby legations handle the work of areas that have no legations, diplomatic activities often face difficulties, and nobody knows when accidents related to Korea and its people take place. Because of this, the Korean government has appointed honorary consuls to countries or cities which have no legations.

Walking along Bachranyan Street in downtown Yerevan, the capital city of Armenia, a two-story stone building hanging the national flag of Korea, the Taegeukgi, is easily noticeable. The building has a board in front of door bearing the words “Korean Consulate” written in Korean, Armenian, and English.

Armen Abramin, who was appointed as honorary consul last November, has used this building as a legation without financial support from the Korean government. He always hangs the Taegeukgi on his car, which has made the Armenian people aware of Korea even though there are only four Koreans living in Armenia.

Abramin’s passion for his work as an honorary consul was confirmed at the opening ceremony of the legation, in which he invited famous figures from Korea to Yerevan through a chartered plane flying from Moscow to Yerevan. His elder brother, Ala Abramin, president of the Concorde Group in Russia, who serves as the vice president of the association for Korea-Russia friendship, is also active in enhancing friendship between the two countries.

However, Abramin expressed regret at the little progress made in the relationship between the two countries. He recently attempted to buy a sport utility vehicle (SUV) made in Korea, but he was not able to find it and bought a vehicle made in Japan. Saying, “I am an honorary consul of Korea. Now, I am driving a Japanese car. I hate to do this,” Abramin called for Korean companies to make inroads into the Armenian market and added, “I will do anything to help them do business here without difficulties.”

On the other hand, in Azerbaijan, a neighboring country of Armenia, which was recently hit by an oil field development boom in the Caspian Sea, Suleyeman Ivrahimov, AB Standard vice-chairman, was appointed as an honorary consul of Korea last May.

Suleyeman Ivrahimov, who once worked as a diplomat for the former Soviet Union and is running businesses there, had no connection with Korea before and has never been to Korea. What made him interested in Korea was the persuasion of his friend, Emlar Mammadyarov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan, who visited Korea last January. Minister Emlar Mammadyarov introduced him to the position of an honorary consul of Korea for the first time.

Ivrahimov, who kept paying keen attention to the Far East Asian region that was showing rapid progress, willingly accepted the suggestion because he believed that the relationship between the two countries, even though it remained at an embryonic stage, will make great strides forward in the near future.

Despite his origins as a member of a Shiite Islamic family, Vrahimov began studying Korea in order to understand a culture that he has never been exposed to. Last month, he visited a Korean culture exhibition held in Baku and received a strong impression on Korean fine arts. He said, “I think I tend to feel more intimacy with the Korean people than Western people,” adding, “Let me schedule my first visit to Korea.”

Ki-Hyun Kim kimkihy@donga.com