The Korea–Russia Dialogue Forum has held the third festival devoted to the creative activity of Korean writer Pak Kyongni. This year, the event on ‘Literature of kindness and compassion’ coincided with the 200th birthday of Fyodor Dostoevsky.

The opening ceremony was conducted by Hur Seung Chul, Professor at Korea University and Director of the KRD secretariat on the Korean side. Rector Nikolay Kropachev, Chair of the KRD Coordinating Committee on the Russian side, gave a welcoming address. He reminded that on 28 October Pak Kyongni would have turned 95 commemorating the writer's birthday.   

‘Fyodor Dostoevsky and Pak Kyongni touched upon the majority if not all vital questions of a human life in their writings. They wrote about the sense of life, the fates of the insulted and the humiliated, and the role of a person in the society. Both Fyodor Dostoevsky and Pak Kyongnni described the whole epochs in the lives of their respective countries. 

At the same time, an insightful reader will notice the love and tenderness, with which both writers treated their characters. Both writers expressed kindness and compassion even towards the antagonists.
Nikolay Kropachev, Rector of St Petersburg University and Chair of the KRD Coordinating Committee on the Russian side

Lee Sok Bae, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Korea to the Russian Federation, also underscored the ideological similarity between the two writers. He stressed that literature enables us to learn about the life of a different country. Ambassador Lee Sok Bae added that the Korea–Russia Dialogue has served as a channel of interaction between the civil societies in Russia and Korea for over 10 years. This has been demonstrated by the festival once again.

Andrey Kulik, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation to the Republic of Korea, talked about the importance of Pak Kyongni’s creative activity to the Korean people. ‘Many novels by Pak Kyongni – the pearls of Korean literature – are translated into Russian and studied at Russian universities, which demonstrates significant interest on the Russian part,’ he noted. Besides, he reminded of the ‘5+5’ series that already published books by 10 authors translated into Russian and Korean. There are plans to publish illustrated translations of fairy tales.

The idea of the ‘5+5’ project is to publish five prominent pieces of Russian literature translated into Korean and five outstanding literary works of South Korea translated into Russian. The translations for the project were performed by well-known specialists. The series features prose writers and poets, classical and contemporary authors.

Lee Kyu Hyung, ex-Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to the Russian Federation and Chair of the KRD Coordinating Committee on the Korean side, expressed gratitude to all organisers and participants of the festival. He also shared his joy of getting together on such an important occasion despite the pandemic. At the end of the speech, Lee Kyu Hyung recited the ‘Pain of Life’ poem by Pak Kyongni.

Compassion as a way of being

At the beginning of the first session, moderator Inna Tsoy, Associate Professor in the Department of Korean Studies, quoted Pak Kyongni speaking about the topic of compassion: ‘Love is kindness, it is the soul that suffers and deeply cares for others’.

This idea was expressed by Seog Young Joong, Professor at Korea University and supervisor of the KRD working group on ‘Culture and Arts’, in the key-note report titled ‘Compassion: the view of Pak Kyongni and Fyodor Dostoevsky on humanity’. According to her, both authors considered compassion to be central in life reflecting this idea in their unique manner in their writing. For Pak Kyongni compassion starts with ‘grief about yourself’, while Dostoevsky shows it through interaction with other characters.  

Igor Sukhikh, Professor at St Petersburg University, described ‘various versions of Dostoevsky’. He noted that today the ‘Golden Age’ of Russian literature often gets expanded into the ‘great triangle of the Golden Age’ formed by the creative activity of three writers including Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy and Anton Chekhov. This triangle features cultural and aesthetic dominants including Leo Tolstoy – an epic writer, a ‘Russian Homer’ and a teacher. In a sense, he is opposed by Anton Chekhov – a master of a short story, a man of letters stating that one should pose questions appropriately. Fyodor Dostoevsky, with the focus on the dramatic confrontation of his characters, takes a special place in this structure.

Fyodor Dostoevsky lived two different lives divided by a mock execution, forced labour and exile that took a decade from 1849 to 1859. The Dostoevsky before differs from the Dostoevsky after these events.

Igor Sukhikh, Professor at St Petersburg University

Dostoevsky of the 1840s is a socialist and atheist, Westernist and a citizen of the world. After the transformation started by the ‘five minutes’ before the execution vividly described in the novel ‘Idiot’, Dostoevsky returns from the exile in 1859 as a monarchist, Christian and a man of the soil. ‘His new worldview points at the paradox that even genius people do not have enough time to take a close look at what they have at hand,’ commented Professor Sukhikh.

According to Igor Sukhikh, Dostoevsky has even more literary faces. These are the writer’s younger years in the spirit of ‘sentimental naturalism’ in the words of critic Apollon Grigoryev, as well as little-known comedies and experimental prose. Fyodor Dostoevsky is active as a journalist and even a documentalist in ‘The House of the Dead’ that laid the foundation for ‘Sakhalin Island’ by Anton Chekhov, ‘The Gulag Archipelago’ by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and ‘The Zone: A Prison Camp Guard's Story’ by Sergey Dovlatov. Late novels by Fyodor Dostoevsky put together from various elements like a puzzle forming the so-called Pentateuch are considered the top of his literary activity worldwide. At the same time, not all critics believe that Fyodor Dostoevsky is a compassionate author. Thus, Nikolay Mikhaylovsky, an essay writer of ‘Sovremennik’, called him ‘a cruel talent’. However, following the path of ‘uncompromised humanism’ Dostoevsky examines the essence of a human being.

A human being is a mystery. It should be revealed and if you keep revealing it all your life, don’t say that you have lost time. I’m solving this mystery because I want to be a human.
from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s letters to his brother, 16 August 1839

Cho Yoon A, Professor at the Catholic University of Korea, talked about the expression of compassion in the works by Pak Kyongni in her report. According to the researcher, the creative work by the Korean writer embodies ‘compassion to life’ when kindness and humanism are expressed not only towards a human being, but also to everything living. It reflects the innate-for-the-Korean-people respect to life as such deeply rooted in shamanism.

In her literary works, Pak Kyongni focuses on the essential conflict, when supporting one life is impossible without absorbing the other. Nevertheless, the world in which all beings devote their lives to procreation is impossible without the natural life cycle. That is why Pak Kyongni believes that the ability of a human to kill another human makes them the most violent being in the entire universe, underscores Professor Cho Yoon A.

Truth in literature

The second part of the festival was devoted to the topic of searching the truth. Anastasiia Gureva, Associate Professor in the Department of Korean Studies at St Petersburg University, talked about common points in the creative activity by Pak Kyongni and Fyodor Dostoevsky. ‘These authors have a lot in common. However, I don’t mean the difference of cultures and literary implications. I mean the universal humanism that lays the foundation for literature and common cultural ground,’ started her speech Anastasiia Gureva. 

According to Ms Gureva, an expert in the classical and modern Korean poetry, the truth for Pak Kyongni is the truth of life as opposed to some abstract absolute.  ‘Universal truth is embodied in the specific’, while the search of truth through revealing the internal condition reflects the world view of the Far Eastern culture in general, comments Anastasiia Gureva. For Fyodor Dostoevsky, the search of truth is often related to the motive of duplicity. Mirror characters help the protagonist to reveal his or her nature like in ‘Crime and Punishment’, in particular.  

In the works of Fyodor Dostoevsky, the truth may be imbodied in the person, while in those of Pak Kyongni, one should search for the truth in every person distinguishing between the true and the false. For him the search of truth is the main goal of human life, while for her the foundation of life is the universal truth embodied in the specific.
Anastasiia Gureva, Associate Professor in the Department of Korean Studies at St Petersburg University

Lee Sunyun, Head of the Editorial Board at ‘The Toji’ Foundation and Professor from Incheon National University, talked about the role of Russian writers in the creative activity by Pak Kyongni. The expert reminded that Pak Kyongni's childhood unfolded during the colonial time. In her memoirs, Pak Kyongni comments that she was good at history and reading despite the general low performance at school. At that time, there were no good translations of literary works from Russian and the few single existing translations were done through the Japanese language. At that time, Pak Kyongni got interested in poetry and many of her poems were written during the Korean War.

In her interview, Pak Kyongni mentioned the following works by Fyodor Dostoevsky: ‘Poor Folk’, ‘Mr Prokharchin’, ‘Crime and Punishment’, ‘The Gambler’, ‘The Idiot’, , ‘The Possessed’ and ‘The Brothers Karamazov’. The books on her shelf included collections of poems by Alexander Pushkin, Sergei Yesenin, Nikolay Merezhkovsky, Ivan Turgenev, Nikolai Gogol, Anton Chekhov, Mikhail Sholokhov and Alexandra Kollontai. 

Noteworthy, one of the main characters in ‘The Land’ novel mentions the works by Fyodor Dostoevsky. In her interview, Pak Kyongni frequently referred to ‘Mr Prokharchin’ story: ‘I remember this story when I lose courage’. According to Lee Sunyun, due to the seeming comic nature, this story appears even more tragic with its protagonist concealing the image of an entirely free person.

Pilgrimage to the sites of memory

Museum workers spoke at the final session led by Kim Hyun Taek, Honorary Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, Director of St Petersburg University Representative Office in the Republic of Korea.

Park Sang Min, Professor at Kangnam University, Deputy Chair of ‘The Toji’ Foundation, talked about the operation of museums devoted to Pak Kyongni’s life and work. He mentioned significant locations in the writer’s life including her house and her tomb. The speaker also talked about the key places in ‘The Land’ novel that have symbolic meaning and make open air museums. Park Sang Min added that four monuments were placed in different locations in South Korea, while only one monument was established abroad. These locations have become Pak Kyongni’s ‘sites of memory’. One of such locations is at St Petersburg University.

Natalia Ashimbaeva, Director of the F. M. Dostoevsky Literary Memorial Museum, shared that this year the museum celebrates its 50th anniversary together with the 200th anniversary of the great writer.

‘The museum is located in the old town in the centre of St Petersburg,’ said Natalia Ashimbaeva. ‘The happiest years of the writer’s life passed in this house.’ His beloved wife and faithful assistant Anna and their children Liuba and Fedia were next to him.   Here Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote his last novel ‘The Brothers Karamazov’. The Museum Director also talked about the new exhibition ‘Dostoevsky. Life and work: PRO ET CONTRA’ aimed at showing his creative activity in the context of his non-trivial life path. She also mentioned the interactive map of St Petersburg with the locations from Dostoevsky’s novels.

At the end of the session, Kim Hyun Taek proposed to hold bilateral events with the visits to the sites of memory and museums of both writers.  

The meeting of two classical writers 

Declamation of the literary works by Pak Kyongni and Fyodor Dostoevsky was a traditional part of the festival. It was moderated by Lee Ji Yeon, Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies and Secretary of the working group on ‘Culture and Arts’ on the Korean side.

The poem ‘It is not your fault’ in Korean and Russian was recited by Lee Hyeong Sook, professor at Korea University, and Anastasiia Pogadaeva, Publishing Editor at ‘The All-Russian Vestnik of the Korean Studies in Russia’ at the Institute of Asian and African Studies, Lomonosov Moscow State University. The poem ‘Mussels’ and its Russian translation were recited by Mariia Soldatova, Associate Professor at Russian State University for the Humanities, and No Ji Yun, Assistant Professor at  Moscow State Linguistic University. Fragments from novel ‘The Land’ in the original and in Russian were recited by Han Sang Hwan, ex-Vice Rector of Yonsei University, and Ekaterina Pokholkova, Dean of the Faculty of Translation and Interpreting at  Moscow State Linguistic University.     Two groups of readers recited extracts from ‘Crime and Punishment’. Daniil Pospelov, specialist of the KRD Forum Directorate and the University graduate, and Diana Chochieva, a student at St Petersburg University , declaimed a fragment in Russian, while graduate students Lee Sonyun and Lee Yeon Seo from Korea University – in Korean. Mikhail Pak, a famous writer and translator from Korean, declaimed a fragment from ‘The Land’ and ‘The White Nights’. Lee Tae Hee, poet and professor at Incheon National University, recited the poem ‘Mother’ by Pak Kyongni, as well as his own work ‘The Path of Camel: Prologue’.

At the end of the meeting, Son Hyorim, Member of the working group on ‘Culture and Art’, Deputy Director of the Culture Section at the Dong-A Ilbo newspaper, shared a contemplation on the power of literary communication between the Republic of Korea and the Russian Federation.