Arrivederci, good friendsCarolo Trezza, Italy's ambassador to Korea, arrived on the peninsula at the height of the economic crisis, Jan. 30, 1998. Exactly four years after his arrival, Mr. Trezza, 55, and his wife Eve, 54, are readying their return to Rome, where they will join their two daughters, Anna, 26, and Claudia, 21. With only a few days left in this country, Mr. Trezza, a career diplomat, looked back on his life here and spoke to the JoongAng Ilbo English Edition of his memories.
IHT-JAI: What was at the top of your agenda upon your arrival in Korea and how did it turn out?
Trezza: Even before coming to Korea, I was already familiar with the country's delicate issues, such as security and arms control involving North Korea.
Upon arrival, I had three clear agenda items. First, because I came here at a troubled time financially, I had to find a way to support economic and commercial activities and re-establish bilateral trade support between the two countries. Luckily, my background was in economics, so I was already familiar with the issues and problems. Italy is one of the four major powers in Europe along with Germany, France and the United Kingdom; the four countries collectively mobilized some $5 billion to support the Korean economy as a line of defense then. The money was never spent, but it was our way of showing our support for and trust in Korea.
Second, there were political matters. Italy was the first of the G-8 countries in Europe to establish diplomatic relations with North Korea, in the year 2000, which was viewed as a positive sign. We had held a moratorium on North Korea because of missile issues; I think it was the right time to open North Korea to the international community, and we were instrumental to the occasion. And many other EU countries followed suit.
When the economy collapsed, sponsorships decreased, so we made the biggest effort to maintain cultural exchanges. Only a few countries have cultural institutes in Korea, and the function of the Italian Cultural Institute is extremely important. Italy was one of the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with the Korean kingdom, in 1884, although the relationship had to be ceased in 1910 with the onset of Japanese colonial rule. The tie was restored after the Korean War, so basically relations resumed in the beginning of the 1960s.
Finally, the geographical and cultural divide between Korea and Italy has contributed to the importance of cultural exchanges. There is so much to learn about each other's cultures, for Italians and Koreans. What can you teach to Europeans, who already know so much about Italian culture? Cultural exchanges have been extremely rewarding and important; without understanding people's culture, there can be no good economic or political exchanges.
IHT-JAI: Why is Italy one of the most popular countries among Koreans?
Trezza: The credit goes to my predecessors. Both countries share affinities. Both countries are peninsulas. Both are on the 38th parallel. Both peoples have a certain pride in their countries' heritage. They are two very old civilizations with long histories, deep roots; they are attached to their own traditions, family values and language. Koreans made their own language, hangeul; Italians, the Roman alphabet. Compared to Italians, Koreans seem to be more structured and stabilized socially. Although the two countries are more than 10,000 kilometers apart, both have positive views for each other, and consider each other friends. Neither of us is a superpower, but in so many instances we defend the same issues.
IHT-JAI: Any regrets?
Trezza: I wish I could have traveled more. I missed out on Mount Jiri and Ulleung Island. I was most impressed with Gyeongju and Jeju Island in terms of landscape, but also with the formidable industrial strength and nuclear power plants.
And I will miss the World Cup. Italy has qualified, and if it wins its matches in Japan, it will come to Korea. There will be a lot of attention on Korea during that exciting period.
IHT-JAI: How are you promoting Italian culture through the Italian Cultural Institute?
Trezza: First through music, or more specifically, Italian opera. Koreans love lyrical singing and the Italian language seems to fit into operatic performance. Whenever performers visited the Seoul Arts Center, I would go and greet them. What surprised me there was that everyone there spoke perfect Italian. There are about 4,000 Korean students studying music and design in Italy each year. The institute supports language departments in Korean universities. The Seoul Arts Center offers Italian courses for musicians. Also, cuisine is part of tradition and heritage. It's a way of living. According to the research done by the trade department, there are as many as 500 so-called "Italian" restaurants in Seoul. Some of them may not be genuine, but through them the promotion of Italian products becomes possible.
Besides the institute, there is the Trade Commission. Within the embassy, there is also a scientific institute. Korea is a promising country in biotechnology, microtechnology and nanotechnology, but it needs to make an effort on environmental problems.
IHT-JAI: What was the highlight of your stay in Korea?
Trezza: President Kim Dae-jung made the first state visit to Italy in March 2000. That visit was a turning point in all aspects of our relationship - political, economic, financial and cultural. After the visit, I can say that every aspect between the two countries was upgraded. The state visit may appear to be only a couple days, but it involved months of preparations by the staffers surrounding the president who worked under enormous pressure. The result was positive and extremely beneficial.
Last July, I was one of the first foreign diplomats in Korea, along with the German ambassador, to travel to North Korea to see Mount Geumgang. The trip was not only beautiful, but also politically significant. I'm bringing with me Korean antiques including a famous chest from Jeju Island and some ancient paintings. Even after I leave, Korea can count on me to promote the country.
Mangia! Mangia! Mangia! And they did . . . and did
It was evening, and the endless queue of shiny black Mercedes, each sporting a different nation’s flag, congested the usually quiet residential neighborhood of UN Village in Hannamdong, just north of the Han River in Seoul.
The cars were headed for the Italian ambassador’s residence, to a farewell party for Carlos Trezza.
Inside the residence, which has a spectacular view of southern Seoul, a table of sumptuous Italian cuisine was prepared for more than 120 guests. Italian cheese, pesto and pasta were everywhere, and enough Italian wine to flood Tuscany. It was an unusually large turnout, a mixture of trend-setters and the diplomatic corps, all dressed in evening wear. Besides bidding farewell to the departing ambassador, those on hand were busy catching up with one another after the winter holidays.
So what did Mr. and Mrs. Trezza think of living in Korea? “We couldn’t tell you in just a few words!” Mrs. Trezza exclaimed.
by Inēs Cho