Skip to main content

Obituary of Vladimir Pucek (1933–2022)

With deep sorrow, we announce that Vladimir Pucek, founding father of Czech Korean studies and great European scholar, has left us on November 1.

Vladimir Pucek belonged to the first generation of Korean studies at the Charles University in Prague where he enrolled in 1952. His first experience with Korea was the Czechoslovak hospital in Ch’ŏngjin, where he worked as a translator in 1955–6. During the1960s he served in various positions at the Czechoslovak embassy in Pyongyang, but his true vocation started in 1966, when he assumed a position at the Charles University and in 1974-2004 he led the Department of Korean Studies. Dry listing of functions, publications or honours he has received during his life is not the best way how to describe Vladimir Pucek and he himself would prefer to recall moments and stories, which were interesting for him: how he discussed linguistics with the first Chairman of the Workers’ Party of North Korea Kim Tubong (1889–?), about his friendship with the legendary dancer Ch’oe Sŭnghŭi (1911–1969), how he coined with Bill Skillend plans for an organisation, which later become known as the AKSE or how he organised cooperation with Bohemian studies at the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul in early 1990s. He frequently joked that he is the only scholar of Korean studies holding honorary citizenship of both Pyongyang and Seoul and when he retired, he could donate to the Charles University Archive an impressive collection of orders and awards.

Vladimir Pucek was a key figure in the cooperation between scholars from the socialist countries and their Western colleagues and his remarkable knowledge and experience were later crucial for integration of Czech Korean studies into the European space after 1989.  The 1994 AKSE meeting in Prague was a highly symbolic event of uniting all European scholars. But none of these great events should overshadow his greatest passion: Korean language and literature studies. His six-hundred pages grammar of the Korean language, translations of sijo and kasa poetry, studies on North Korean interpretations of the traditional Korean novels, lectures on the history of Korean language or textbooks on Korean lexicology were a part of his endless work to provide his students with accurate tools how to study and understand Korea. Vladimir Pucek never stopped dreaming about further publications on new topics and directions, which, as he frequently said, “we have to do.” There is no better proof of his dedication than generations of his students, who are almost single handedly raised by him.

By his passing, Korean studies lost one of the last members of the generation, which was discovering post-war Korea on their own, without teachers and working in conditions, which would break many other people. We are truly proud that Vladimir Pucek was able to share his great story with us and we could learn from him that basic preconditions of a good scholar are hard work and sense of humour.Vladimir Glomb and Miriam Löwensteinova