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[Diplomatic News] Like Grandfather, Like Granddaughter

Posted November. 04, 2005 07:13,   


At the Korean Study Center of Moscow National University on Mohobaya Street in downtown Moscow on Wednesday, Mihail Park (87), a professor emeritus of Korean Studies who has headed the center since 1991, was talking with his granddaughter, Victoria (26), as they browsed through the Chinese and the Korean versions of The Heritage of the Three States.

Park, also known as the master of Korean studies in Russia, was the first Moscow university student to receive a doctoral degree in Korean history. He has served as a faculty member at the university since 1949.

He has taught many Korea experts, including Balerie Suhinin, the diplomatic minister of the Russian Embassy in Seoul, Alexandre Timonin, the deputy director of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Jun Hyun-soo, a North Korean history professor at Kyungpook University.

Park recently began translating the Heritage of the Three States into Russian. In 1995, he completed the translation of The Chronicles of the Three States.

When he was asked “Why do you want to take on another daunting task? You can take some rest now,” he answered, “I will not stop doing what I am doing until I have to. And she can take up where I left off in case that I can’t finish,” pointing at his granddaughter.

It took him 36 years to translate the Chronicles of the Three States alone, but this time, he has his granddaughter to rely on.

Victoria obtained a master’s degree in August this year from Seoul National University where she had studied the history of Balhae, an ancient kingdom, under the guidance of professor, Song Gi-ho. She put her studies on hold to give a birth to her baby, but now, she is focusing all her energy on translating the Heritage of the Three States and raising her three-month-old daughter.

Park seemed to be pleased when he said “I feel relieved to have someone who can continue my work.” His family is famous for being brilliant as well. His two sons and three grandsons are graduates of top schools, such as Moscow University, the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), Chicago University in the U.S. and the London Business School (LBS). Most of them are now working in the financial industry and the corporate world. The only one remaining in academia is Victor (60), his first-born son, who is an Arabic professor at Moscow University.

Park said that he was sorry to find out that no one in his family was interested in the Korean studies that he had been dedicated to throughout his life. Then Victoria decided to major the Korean studies in 1997, after studying in Korea when she was a freshman with a major in Oriental studies at Moscow University.

She may have read her grandfather’s mind.

Victoria and Oleg Pirosenko (26), her husband and former classmate, left for Seoul to study as soon as she graduated from Moscow University in 2002. After receiving a master’s degree with a thesis on the history of Goryeo, an ancient Korean state, at the graduate school of Korea University, her husband now works in the Korea Department in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Victoria intends to continue her pursuit of a doctorate in Seoul when her husband is posted to Seoul as diplomat.

She chose to study Balhae history, mainly because the ancient state has strong connections with her grandfather. Balhae’s historical remains were found in Kraskino area in Primorskii krai, where Park was born. As a child, she used to hear the stories of Balhae. And as a scholar, she visited here with Park, several years ago.

She said “The study of Balhae history is gaining momentum here in Russia. Given that Balhae used to stretch across the Korean Peninsula, Russia and China, a joint study by these countries is needed.”

Victoria referred to extensive data from North Korea for her thesis, but she found that North Korea’s historical studies lack objectivity.

Park is working even more enthusiastically these days, as if he has been energized by his granddaughter. Recently, he published a paper criticizing China’s attempt to distort Goguryeo history and to make Korean history a part of Chinese history in the historical gazette of Moscow University. Park warned, “The Chinese government and historians fail to see things right because of hidden political motives. Academic study should remain objective under any circumstances.”

Ki-Hyun Kim kimkihy@donga.com