EXCLUSIVE: ​Mayor of Seoul Interview

Posted on July 25, 2019

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In early June, I headed out to South Korea for the DMZ Peace Train Festival and Conference, where the Mayor, Park Won-Soon gave 15 minutes of his time to talk to me exclusively about the festival, plans for the city and his $100m pledge to make Seoul a music hub, in the wake of BTS and K-Pop’s worldwide success.

As won-Soon is seen by many as someone who puts people before profits, the Mayor also spoke about the DMZ, the sensitivity of the region.

What makes this festival so unique, apart from the fact it’s held at the DMZ?

Because this is at the DMZ, Korea is the only country in the world that has a division between itself between the North and South. And obviously, there are serious complications. Before the Peace summit earlier this year between North and South Korea, it was a much more sensitive and tense area than now, as we didn’t know when the armed conflict would break out.

And as peacekeepers in the DMZ, and with Seoul being only 40km away from the area, Kim Jong-un declared that if a deal had not been brokered between the two Koreas, he would shoot missiles into the city.

So in this situation, the road to peace is very meaningful. Our former President Kim Dae-Jung, who won the Nobel Peace Laureate in the ’90s, initiated it. If he succeeds and we continue the efforts of the so-called ‘Sunshine Policy’, we may have accomplished many things in terms of peacebuilding initiatives. But our last two regimes stopped those kinds of efforts. But our current President, Moon Jae-in is rebuilding it at the moment in the peninsula.

Therefore, music festivals in the DMZ and Seoul are one step towards the process of building lasting peace. And that is the reason why the Seoul Metropolitan Government are sponsoring and supporting this event.

You have pledged $100million to promote Seoul as a music city. Why are you promoting and pledging such a huge amount of money into music?

Music is an essential part of life and Koreans love music and the arts very much. For a long time, people in Korea could not enjoy them because of the division of the country, dictatorship, the wars and many other adversities. Citizens of Seoul, as well as South Koreans, are very unique in achieving the industrializations and democratization within half a century. So now we have reached $30,000 in GDP per capita, and it means we have reached a point where we can now enjoy music and arts.

From the beginning since my inaugural as Mayor, I declared Seoul to be a citizen-oriented and centred city. This means we are providing our citizens with a high standard quality of life and music, arts and other cultural institutions such as arenas and museums. That’s why I’m so anxious to establish these.

Some citizens of Seoul I’m mad for investing so much money and time into arts, so in response, I decided to build museums in Seoul at the cost of $100m which I am currently building right now.

Does this also extend to music education programs as well, so that young children can learn instruments?

In Seoul alone, we have 130 orchestras, which are taught by the citizens of the city themselves. So I provided a space for them to practice. We also have an annual competition of civic orchestras. Everybody enjoys his or her music styles, whether it’s classical (from the west) or traditional Korean style.

Do you think the DMZ Peace Train Festival, since its inception last year has affected political change directly or indirectly?

Directly no. But indirectly, I think it has made an impact on politics and people in general. When I went up to the DMZ and to the site of the former Korean Workers Labour Party building (where one of the stages are located), it shows they have a very vivid memory and inspiration to remember our tragedies of the past. Also, it shows the intent we have towards the reunification of our country. So if we have more chances and opportunities for our citizens to go there and enjoy the music, I think it will be inspiring for our people.

What’s the secret of the worldwide success of BTS selling out stadium shows?

I asked several people about what attributed to the key ingredients of BTS’s success. In my interpretation, that phenomenon cannot be made in one specific time or place/regions. So it is the synergy of different cultures of music from around the world. Many youngsters in Korea have absorbed the influence of African-American music from the United States and they consumed it and were inspired to create their music, which is now coined as K-Pop. If you look at the proponents of music from the US, it is very similar in terms of styles and dance, so it is nice to share all these things with the rest of the world.

When we are reminded of the history of the Silk Road, which existed for many centuries, beginning even before Christ, it was a very difficult period because there were no means of transportation like planes or cars. But in those periods there were extensive exchanges. But now, we have a means of travel and in a few hours, we can reach many parts of the Silk Road. Therefore we should have more opportunities to mingle together and create new synergy effect when it comes to art and cultures, even with the economy as well. We are currently creating and building new civilizations now.

Posted in: Music, Social