Dr. Petr Drulák, Director of the Institute of International Relations (IIR) of Prague, the Czech Republic, visited Korea to promote mutual understanding and to discuss a diplomatic strategy for advancing the interests of Korea and the Czech Republic, as two middle powers.What have been your impressions about Korea?
I was very surprised to see the modern look of the Korean society. It was the aspect I had not felt so much earlier, although I had heard about the remarkable economic development of Korea, unprecedented in the world’s history. During my visit, I experienced the rich culture and history of Korea, and met with people of various sectors, ranging from a Buddhist monk to a representative of a national think tank. This was all such a valuable experience that I cannot decide which aspect is more important or less so. Especially, my meeting with those in charge of Korea’s diplomacy and international relations was very helpful, and I am now interested in learning more about inter-Korean relations in the future.What is the Institute of International Relations all about?
IIR is a research institute operated with public funds from the Czech Republic. It is closely related to the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs and implements various activities in regard to policy planning and academic areas. The Institute enjoys independence in setting up its own research agenda and carrying out project activities. It publishes periodicals and has a high-standard library with a wide range of collections on international relations. Although its major research areas focus on European integration, international relations, and the Eastern European region surrounding the Czech Republic, the Institute also undertakes regional studies on the Middle East, East Asia, the U.S., and Africa.It is impressive that Europe is steadily marching toward integration, despite a number of variables. What do you believe is the biggest obstacle to the success of this process?
There are two different concepts that always create controversy for the process of European integration. Some call for deeper and wider integration, while others seek to maintain each country’s sovereignty and influence, as much as possible. The core discussion on European integration is how to build a framework that can satisfy these two contradictory approaches. This is what makes European integration seem to have so much difficulty to the eyes of people outside Europe. Integration is not an easy process and there is no easy way to achieve it. Therefore, concessions from both sides, and all countries involved in the discussion of European integration, will be essential.What particular issues have recently attracted the attention of EU member countries?
The key issue today is related to the Treaty of Lisbon. Many people pay attention to how the Treaty will change the “rules of the game” among EU members. When the Treaty of Lisbon became effective, the EU created an organization to oversee international relations and the post of a foreign affairs representative, which will also have a great impact on international relations in the future.
Another major issue is the recent economic crisis. There are two opposing opinions in Europe about how to resolve the economic crisis, which has directly and dramatically affected the whole of Europe. Some argue that each country should increase spending to boost the economy, while the others state that countries should spend less to reduce the fiscal deficit. The concern is thus how to make a rational and workable decision somewhere between these two opinions. Finally, there is much discussion about an expansion of the EU. Personally, I think the positive changes in Central and Southern Europe that will result from expansion of the EU are very important. There are, however, people who raise concerns about the adverse effects of such expansion. Various discussions on this issue are currently ongoing.This year marks the 20th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Korea and the Czech Republic. What areas should we pay special attention to during the next two decades?
Considering economic aspects in particular, it is very interesting to research the diplomatic relations and exchanges between our two countries. Not many people know that Korea is the fourth-largest investor in the Czech Republic. European neighbors, like France or the U.K., are far behind Korea in this regard. In this way, the two countries have built deep relations in the economic sector, but it is ironical that our two peoples hardly know about each other’s country. So, I think we need efforts to conduct more people-to-people exchanges, beginning this year on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Korea-Czech Republic diplomatic relations.Adjacent to China and Japan, Korea must always be especially sensitive to international relations.
I believe the geopolitical position of Korea has created much difficulty in its history. It can be said that Central European countries, including the Czech Republic, have also experienced similar difficulties since they are located between the two powers of Russia, to the east, and Germany, to the west. Koreans have been very much influenced by China, historically and culturally, and suffered under the painful colonial rule of Japan. Similarly, the Czech people have long been influenced by Germany and had been invaded by Russia. In such a position, a diplomatic strategy calls for us to forge relations with as many countries as possible and to effectively utilize these ties. I think Korea has already been employing an appropriate and effective strategy in this respect.The Czech people have achieved democratization on their own, much like the Korean people. What is needed to nurture and further develop such democracy?
I think democracy is a very important but difficult topic. Although the two countries’ history of democracy is short, it is a very proud history that people have gained democracy from their own demands and actions. Many people shouted for democracy in the streets of Korea in 1980, and in my own country two years later. It is true that such hard-gained democracy has faced many difficulties. But what I want to emphasize about the development of democracy is the importance of the freedom of speech. The freedom of the media cannot be overemphasized. It provides the grounds for open discussion and thereby helps democracy to bloom more fully.