Mihhail Kõlvart, the mayor of the Estonian capital, Tallinn, was granted an honorary citizenship of the South Korean capital, Seoul, in recognition of his contribution to promoting Korean culture in Estonia.
Kõlvart was awarded the honorary citizenship by Park Won-soon, the mayor of Seoul, at a ceremony at the Seoul City Hall. The Seoul city government said in a statement that “Kõlvart is known to have a deep interest in Korea and its culture”.
Kõlvart’s interest in Korea stems from his family roots – he was born in Kazakhstan to a Korean mother and an Estonian father, who had met while studying at Moscow University. Kõlvart’s family moved to Estonia when he was three. He has said in interviews to the Estonian media that his mentality is still Korean and he honours the traditions and culture of his mother – such as huge respect for parents and elders, for example. Kõlvart has also long served as the head of the Tae Kwon Do Association in Estonia – and is known to personally practise this old Korean martial art.
Former Savisaar protégé
Kõlvart entered the municipal politics in 1999 as a member of the Social Democrats. He joined the Centre Party in 2008 and was elected to the Tallinn city council in 2009. In 2011, he became a deputy mayor under Edgar Savisaar (the Centre Party’s former leader and Tallinn’s mayor from 2007-2015), responsible for education, culture, sport and integration in the capital.
After Savisaar’s fall from power, Kõlvart replaced him as the most successful vote magnet in Lasnamäe – Tallinn’s predominantly Russian-speaking district – gathering almost 25,000 votes there in 2017 local election. He was elected mayor of Tallinn in spring 2019 – part of the bargain deal between the Estonian and Russian wings of the Centre Party, after the inclusion of far-right EKRE party in the new Estonian government (the Russian wing was first opposed to the inclusion of EKRE).
Kõlvart visited the Korean capital to reciprocate the Seoul mayor’s visit to Tallinn last year, during which the two signed a friendship accord between their cities.
Cover: Mihhail Kõlvart awarded in Seoul (Tallinn City Government).