Korea in the Bulgarian Archives | Wilson Center

Korea in the Bulgarian Archives

Announcing the initial results of a multilateral research and educational project on Korea-East European relations

In December 2014, several institutions in Korea and Europe launched a multilateral project to identify, digitize, and eventually publish archival sources from Eastern Europe relevant to the histories of North and South Korea. With the support of the National Research Foundation of Korea, (NRF-2014S1A5B4063341), Sungkyunkwan University and Sofia University began to explore state records in Bulgaria related to Korean history since 1945.

In Korea, the project is managed by Professor Jaekyo Jin, Director of the Academy of East Asian Studies at Sungkyunkwan University. Established in 1398 by the Joseon Dynasty, Sungkyunkwan is the oldest academic institution in Korea. In Bulgaria, the project is coordinated by Soyoung Kim, a Visiting Associate Professor with the Korean Studies Department, Center for Eastern Languages and Cultures, at Sofia University. Professor Jordan Baev, the coordinator of the Bulgarian Cold War Research Group, serves as a senior advisor for the project.

During the first two years of the project (2015-2016), the research team worked in six different state archives in Bulgaria with materials related to Korea. The archives contained 36 relevant fonds (record groups), comprised of more than 150 opises and about 1,800 folders. In total, for the period from 1945-1995, the Bulgarian archives contain more than 30,000 pages broadly related to Korea.

The most significant collections were found at the Central State Archives in Sofia. They include former Communist Party records, the confidential records of the Council of Ministers, the records of the Ministry of Foreign Commerce, files from the Bulgarian Red Cross, reports from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and from some other state and public agencies. (In 2011, the diplomatic reports and correspondences for the period 1944-1975 were transferred to the Central State Archives. Files from 1976-1995 are still kept at the Diplomatic Archive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Sofia.) The records of conversation between Todor Zhivkov and Kim Il Sung in 1956, 1973-1975, and 1984-1985 are among the documents collected by the research team.

The project team also discovered some important formerly top secret materials produced by the Bulgarian military and  foreign intelligence services respectively at the State Military Historical Archive in VelikoTarnovo and the State Security Centralized Archive in Bankya. Some of these documents have recently been published in the “COMDOS” series, compiled and edited by the Committee on Disclosure of Documents and Announcing Affiliation of Bulgarian Citizens to the State Security and the Intelligence Services of the Bulgarian National Army.

In addition to textual collections, the research team worked with visual materials at the Photo Archive of Bulgarian Telegraph Agency (BTA) and the Video Archive of Bulgarian National TV (BNT).

The earliest records uncovered in the Bulgarian archives date to the establishment of diplomatic relations between Bulgaria and North Korea in November 1948. The collections dating from the Korean War and its immediate aftermath include files on propaganda campaigns in Eastern Europe, Bulgaria’s material aid to North Korea, its humanitarian/medical missions, and the presence of more than 500 Korean orphans in Bulgaria from 1952-1960.

Bulgaria gave considerable material aid to North Korea after the Korean War and the two countries increased bilateral commercial, scientific and cultural exchanges. In 1962, however, relations between the two communist states deteriorated dramatically. After North Korean diplomats tried to prevent Korean university students from requesting political asylum in Bulgaria, the relationship froze for a period of six years. Documents uncovered by the project’s research team reveal what happened during the incident and the complicated story of how Bulgaria and North Korea eventually normalized bilateral relations at the end of the 1960s.

From 1973 through 1985, Bulgaria and North Korea expanded political, economic, scientific, cultural, and societal cooperation. The research team found a significant number of documents, often containing“sensitive” information, concerning the “Korean question” at the United Nations and the inter-Korean struggle for recognition during this period.

The Bulgarian archives also contained some gems on South Korea. The research team identified files which documented the growth of commercial, scientific, and cultural contacts between Sofia and Seoul, ties which paved the way for the establishment of diplomatic relations in March 1990.

Selected documents from the Bulgarian state archives—perhaps 25 percent of all relevant files—were scanned and arranged in a large database with short annotations for each one. The annotations were translated into Korean, and digitized copies of the documents along with the annotations will soon be available at Academy of East Asia Studies at Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul and at the Korean Studies Department of Sofia University. Selected key documents will also be published in English soon by the Wilson Center’s History and Public Policy Program, accompanied by an introduction and additional information about the project.

The next goal of the project is to edit and publish—in both Korean and Bulgarian—a detailed catalogue of about 200 pages with information on all Bulgarian archival sources relevant to Korea. As part of the project, Sungkyunkwan University and Sofia University also organized two academic workshops in 2016. A third workshop will be held in March 2017, with the participation of scholars from Sofia, Seoul, Belgrade, Bucharest, Budapest, and Warsaw.

To build on the systematic exploration of the Bulgarian archives, the Academy of East Asian Studies at Sungkyunkwan and Sofia University began a new joint educational project in late 2015. Supported by the Core University Program for Korean Studies of the Ministry of Education of Republic of Korea and the Korean Studies Promotion Service of the Academy of Korean Studies (AKS-2015-OLU-2250004), the project is titled “Establishment of a Combined Education and Research System for Root-taking and Spreading of Korean Studies in Eastern Europe”.

As part of the project, Sofa University created a new master’s program in the Korean Studies Department. Students in the program will explore the newly digitized archival sources and make use of them in their master’s theses. In this way, the new archival findings on Korea will be immediately put to use, helping to push the historiography forward while working toward the goals of the 2010 Framework Agreement between the European Union and Republic of Korea for enhanced mutual understanding in science and cultural cooperation.

Jordan Baev is Professor of Contemporary International History at ‘Rakovski’ National Defense College in Sofia and Coordinator of Bulgarian Cold War Research Group.
More posts by Jordan Baev
Soyoung Kim is Visiting Associate Professor at the Korean Studies Department of Sofia University and a Member of National Unification Advisory Council of Korea
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