Nobel Laureates gather in Pyongyang for educational exchange
Text Shakila Rajendra
Photos Justin Ong
This year the Vienna-based International Peace Foundation (IPF), along with the Korean National Peace Committee, took a significant step toward raising awareness for peace. A series of educational events were held, which included the participation of three Nobel prize laureates for the first time in North Korea. Taking place from 2–6 May 2016, they included Professor Finn E. Kydland from Norway, Aaron Ciechanover from Israel and Sir Richard J. Roberts from the United Kingdom. The laureates were there to share their expertise in the fields of economics, medicine and chemistry with university students in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
The event series, dubbed “Bridges – Dialogues Towards a Culture of Peace” has seen as many as 48 Nobel Laureates share their experience and expertise with over 180,000 participants. Held for the first time in Pyongyang, workshops, dialogues and seminars with students from Kim Il Sung University, Kim Chaek University of Technology and the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology were conducted.
The purpose of the Bridges event was to strengthen international understanding and diplomatic ties through inspiring the younger generation to build ‘bridges’ with the visiting Nobel Laureates. Through this series it is hoped that common research programmes and other sustainable forms of co-operation can be established as tools for silent diplomacy.
Uwe Morawetz, the founding Chairman of the IPF said in his keynote speech, “By enhancing science, technology and education as a basis for peace and development, the events may lead to a better co-operation for the advancement of peace, freedom and security in the region with the active involvement of the young generation, our key to the future.”
Bridges Built To Last
The IPF truly believes that the bridges built through dialogue and co-operation are made to last. For the last 14 years, the foundation has worked with countries all over Asia in generating a peace process that has roots in mutual understanding and most importantly, respect. The “Bridges – Dialogues Towards A Culture of Peace” event series has taken place in Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam and Singapore in co-operation with UNESCO and 145 different institutions including 75 major universities and schools.
To this end, it has certainly been a major part of the IPF vision to hold the series in the DPRK. Morawetz himself visited DPRK as many as six times over two years to make this leg of the Bridges series a reality.
He noted in his keynote speech, “The foundation doesn’t take sides, but acts as a mediator by creating an independent platform for dialogue to build a culture of peace which needs the participation of everyone. Only if many ways cross and people walking these ways meet, can international understanding be achieved and problems commonly solved. If we listen to and learn from each other, we may discover that there is not only one way to achieve peace, but that there are many ways, and certainly ways we have never thought of to go.”
This belief is also reiterated by HSH Prince Alfred of Liechtenstein, who chairs IPF’s Advisory Board and who also joined the event series in Pyongyang.
He mentioned, “Students and scientists in the DPRK are hungry for knowledge, education and international input… We want to give the young generation in North Korea a voice, a voice seldom heard of and listened to, a voice that could provide hope for peaceful changes and an opportunity not to be missed, because we change nothing by not going. We change nothing by not engaging.”
Nobel Expertise On The Table
As part of the sharing of knowledge, the three laureates who were invited travelled to the events on their own volition without accepting fees or honorariums; further proof of the goodwill and support that is invoked by this IPF series.
Prof. Finn Kydland is the Nobel Laureate for Economics at the Department of Economics of the University of California in Santa Barbara. His field of expertise revolves around macroeconomics, specifically the time consistency of economic policy and the driving forces behind business cycles. In his dialogue with students and professors in Pyongyang, Prof. Kydland spoke about the problems facing market economies and highlighted the “time inconsistency of optimal government policy”. He suggested a need for a commitment mechanism that ensured good economic policy.
In the field of medicine, Sir Richard J. Roberts, Nobel Laureate for Medicine at New England Biolabs in Ipswich, spoke on his interesting life journey that brought him into the field of molecular biology.
In a twist of fate, Sir Roberts mentioned that if science had not peaked his interest, it was likely that he would have become a professional billiards player. However, his foray into science led him to cultivate an interest in sequencing DNA and he eventually became a pioneer in what is now called bioinformatics.
His talk at the Bridges events touched on his philosophies toward business and life and cultivating a keen sense of questioning things that people already know about. He is particularly interested in how commercial success can fund and foster development in innovative research.
The medicine revolution and the part chemistry plays in the scheme of how diseases will be handled in the future was the theme by which Nobel Laureate for Chemistry Aaron Ciechanover from the Technion Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, centred his talks around.
His work for the past 30 years has been about the degradation of protein in cell tissue and how this leads to a better understanding of how the human body responds to disease. He also highlighted how the ‘one size fits all’ ideology that previously drove the development of medicines is now fast becoming obsolete, and that we are now moving toward an era of personalised medicine in the treatment of diseases.
The humanitarian efforts that have been evident in the work of these Nobel Laureates is hoped to inspire innovation and future-thinking in the Bridges events participants.
The IPF is already planning its next series; the 6th ASEAN “Bridges” event series will commence in January 2017 and will take place throughout Indonesia until March 2017.
For more stories and photos, check out Asian Geographic issue 119.