Explorers of Excellence: Narratives from North Korea

Speaker: Eduardo Zachary Albrecht, Ph.D. and JCU class of 1999
Tribute to Ryan P. Crowder, M.Sc. and JCU class of of 2001 (Ithaca, NY, 1977 – Managua, Nicaragua, 2010)

On January 30, 2012, the Guarini Institute for Public Affairs held an event titled Explorers of Excellence: Narratives from North Korea, focusing upon North Korea’s controlling regime and the struggle of adjustment endured by the country’s defectors. Named after two JCU alumni, Eduardo Zachary Albrecht and Ryan P. Crowder, the event featured a presentation by Professor Albrecht, which gave a summary of Korean history as well as findings from his anthropological studies in Korea involving the adjustment of North Korean defectors. Included in this section, Albrecht played two translated recordings of interviews with a woman and a man who had separately defected from the North to the South by way of China. Giving insight into the minds of an isolated people as well as into the propaganda techniques of the government, the interviewees expressed their shock towards everything from the South’s technological modernity, to love songs not directed towards “Dear Leader,” and even to their longing for the “purity” of the North’s food and air.

Moving on, Professor Albrecht made sure to include a short analysis of North Korean propaganda as well as a discussion of EU official policy towards dealing with the rogue state. Relating to certain views expressed by the interviewees, the propaganda revealed that the North openly concedes that the South has become a much more affluent country, but it insists that this has resulted in compromising with malevolent foreign powers such as the US and buying into the capitalist system. Thus, according to Albrecht, the North often endorses the slogan that the North Korean people are, “as pure as the water they drink.”

Having established some insight into the Korean mindset and the nature of the northern regime, Professor Albrecht questioned the effectiveness of official EU policy, which relies on the soft power formula. Essentially, the EU provides food aid to the country and has declared that the North should accept international observers for human rights purposes, yet Albrecht argued that this policy of encouraging reciprocation makes little sense considering the North’s legitimacy relies upon an ongoing conflict with the West and foreign powers.

Following Professor Albrecht’s presentation, the mother of another JCU alum, Ryan P. Crowder, spoke about her son’s life and death. Shedding light upon Ryan’s character and personal drive through his circuitous academic and career path, Mrs. Crowder told of Ryan’s accomplishments that took him from Ithaca, NY to JCU, Argentina, Cornell University, and Nicaragua. In his final days, Ryan had been working on environmentally-friendly development projects in Nicaragua involving sustainable fishing practices, but his life was tragically ended with his murder in the city of Managua at the hands of a local street gang, which was subsequently acquitted despite video recording evidence. In closing remarks, Mrs. Crowder expressed that despite her son’s success and the value of development, she ultimately feels that Ryan’s death illustrates the limits of development projects abroad, in that in the end, a society must achieve a level of civility and rule of law within its judicial institutions in order to truly better the lives of its people.