Our time at Estonia’s Annual Commemorative Conference for the 75th Anniversary of the United Nations

By Fadil Elobeid|April 20, 2020|News|1 comments

A blog by CISD students Jean Kostrzewski, Toma Moran and Anahita Ghanbari Parsa

We were selected to attend Estonia’s Annual Commemorative Conference for the 75th Anniversary of the United Nations, an event centred around encouraging intercultural dialogue between individuals, organisations and states to find meaningful ways to build peace in the current age. We were kindly hosted by PeaceChild International, a UK based charity focusing on youth entrepreneurship, employability, sustainable development, and youth empowerment. It holds UN Economic and Social Consultative status and promotes the concept of youth-led development. Much of Peacechild’s work has explored the use of arts and culture in its work, something particularly resonant coming to Estonia, which prides itself on its incredible emphasis on the arts in its national identity. 

 To mark the 75th Anniversary of the UN, Secretary General Antonio Guterres launched global initiative #JoinUN75, calling all generations across the world to come together for a year of dialogue, in a time of unprecedented change in the geopolitical climate, in hopes of finding ways as a ‘human family’ to build a better future. The Estonian government collaborated with a number of organisations to host its own dialogue, and sought to find young people who could contribute, given Guterres’ emphasis on youth inclusion in future UN initiatives. As representatives who were either dual British or non-British, (Anahita as a British-Iranian, Toma as a French-Irish, Jean as Polish-French) we were invited to draw on our own experiences and insights to contribute to the conversation taking place. 

The conference took place the week after the recent CISD trip to Geneva and the United Nations. After a day apart to rest and prepare, the dream team reunited for round two of our diplomatic adventures. After some initial minor bumps, such as Toma missing the first flight to Estonia, and a very early flight that neither Jean nor Anahita were accustomed to, we finally all arrived in the old, beautiful (and very cold) town of Tallinn, and met our team for the week, David Woollcombe, Jonathan Hart, and Tom Powell. David is an author, playwright and filmmaker who is an expert in the field of youth participation in governance. As the founder and President of PeaceChild International, he co-organised the entire conference. 

Jonathan works for UNICEF UK, having played an incredible part in leading the Rights Respecting School Award programme. As a teacher, and a founding member of  HRE4ALL (Human Rights for all) alongside his work as a member of the Human Rights working group for Oxfam’s OSW (Our Shared World), he and David offered invaluable and inspiring expertise on stage, but also to us as we got to know each other. Tom, also part of our dream team for the week, is an extremely talented singer and musician, who has built a huge part of the cultural aspect of such events, and also in collaboration with PeaceChild, organising beautiful performances and collaborative musical events to bring communities together, offering a constructive and unique space to discuss all the crucial issues of the event. 

Jean and Anahita spoke on the ‘Peacebuilding and Intercultural Dialogue’ panel, the first of the conference, alongside some brilliant individuals, including Ambassador Hatem Atallah of Tunisia, Anis Boufrika of WeLoveSousse, and Liis Paloots of the IOM. Excited, but also very nervous, we stepped up to start the first of the series of panel discussions for the conference. Our panel sought to explore the desire to achieve peace, and the means for enabling the UN to be a more effective peace-builder / peace-keeper. The range of speakers meant that we all drew on different but worthwhile points for consideration, that cross cut a number of crucial issues. 

Anahita Ghanbari Parsa

For me (Anahita), being the first speaker was definitely a daunting start –  jumping straight into the deep end, but having Jean by my side was not only reassuring, but a great experience to be able to dive in together and share the moment with one of my closest friends. In my speech, I highlighted that whilst institutions such as the UN, have taken incredible strides in building peace, there is an issue of representation and accessibility that must be recognised to establish more effective work. I centred around this to discuss the role of women, people of colour, and youth being able to access and participate in diplomacy, advocacy and activist spaces, to in turn shape peacebuilding efforts on both a local and global scale. I drew on my own experiences as a young woman of colour navigating these spaces, but also my research since my undergraduate, which has explored this issue. 

Women have long been central to not only peacemaking, but also armed conflict, despite the traditional discourse that tends to paint women as simply victims. The reality of women’s participation is very different, and this shows the importance of not only acknowledging these nuances, but also the need for the active inclusion and visibility of women in conflict resolution and international security, for a more representative and accurate approach to peacebuilding. 

I also discussed the need for the UN to address its colonial history in order to create better peace-building mechanisms for the future. Much of our modern system has been built through practices that have significantly disadvantaged and excluded people of colour, and without stepping back to address and act on this reality, we risk falling into the danger of policies that have sometimes been manipulated to hinder rather than encourage the independent development of growing states. 

I ended by drawing on the issue of youth representation, pointing out that as a 21 year old student speaking on the panel, I was not of the same experience as the more notable and practiced speakers present. The opportunity, however, to attend the conference, and to also actively participate, was not only an incredibly worthwhile learning experience, but also shifted the nature of the dialogue taking place, as we found an intergenerational discussion also take place – which is crucial to better understanding the realities of the world today, including extremely timely issues such as climate change, its impacts on the present, but also the future- and the world’s future generation of adults. The conference itself was a brilliant example of what I suggested in practice – the room was full of figures from ages 19 through to 70, from all over the world, and a great number of inspiring women who all engaged in a very fruitful debate throughout the entire conference. This made for an inclusive, representative and meaningful conversation – something that should be replicated and reflected in the UN’s wider practices and other institutions/spaces for advocacy and diplomacy. 

Jean Kostrzewski

I (Jean) was speaking on the same panel as Anahita, and I talked about the three core values of multilateralism: inclusion, consultation and solidarity. Given the various uncertainties and strong tensions in the ruthless environment of today’s world politics I highlighted the fact that these values can be easily drowned in the rapacious pursuit of individual interests. Based on my modest but insightful experience as a 23 years old Masters student engaged with international security and migration issues, I gave my own interpretation of what are the three main values of multilateralism and how they can be better applied nowadays. 

When it comes to inclusion, as the son of two Polish political refugees who fled to France while Poland was still under Soviet domination, I expressed my sincere gratitude to France for being my adoptive and secure motherland, where I was born and raised as a proud “third culture kid” able to have access to the same social opportunities as other French citizens. These days there is a great need to perceive inclusion less as a matter of political correctness and privilege for a select few but more as a right and key to growth.

The second value: consultation was exemplified through my involvement in campaigning about arms control and global disarmament. As a Polish-French dual citizen speaking at a peacebuilding panel in Estonia I spoke about possible ways to purposefully engage with countries such as Russia. Without ignoring the Russian transgressions or tense relationship between the Russian Federation and other Baltic states, I then emphasised the importance of maintaining dialogue particularly in a context of conflict in order to prevent further escalation. The value of this paramount dialogue cannot be depreciated by countries such as Poland, Estonia or Russia who have deeply interconnected security concerns.

Finally I advocated for a conception of international solidarity that is more accessible than we might think, by referring to the Parisian refugee camps close to my parents’ house, where through charity work I provided humanitarian assistance to refugees from all ages coming from numerous countries facing drastic political instabilities where their survival was often at risk. In the words of Antonio Guterres,: “As a global community, we face a choice. Do we want migration to be a source of prosperity and international solidarity, or a byword for inhumanity and social friction?”

I concluded my statement by pointing out how the UN can become more successful in its multilateral peacebuilding efforts by suggesting few structural adjustments in the UN strategic  budgeting system. I indicated the strong and potentially detrimental asymmetry between a colossal peacekeeping budget contrasting with a much less significant peacebuilding fund requiring urgently more investment so the UN can more effectively address the direct source of all the world’s humanitarian disasters, instead of being doomed to deal with their consequences. I also reiterated the fact that member states play a fundamentally crucial role in incentivising various UN agencies to reorient their programs to conflict priority. Peacebuilding operations can become more successful only if the relevant stakeholders and decision makers draw a clear distinction between political success and bureaucratic success, between crisis management and crisis prevention and finally between peacekeeping endeavours and peacebuilding endeavours.

Toma Moran

As for myself (Toma) I had to wait a little longer before my time to speak came. I spoke on the panel covering digitalisation and human rights. Luckily I was able to draw inspiration from the previous speeches of my fellow colleagues Anahita and Jean while also drawing from the immense diversity in opinions of previous panelists. This topic was particularly interesting for me as I believe that having grown up in the digital age I have a good grasp of the challenges and issues that lie ahead for us as human rights advocates but also just as humans. This was my first point, digitalisation is not a process or a nice academic term qualifying some distant problem that might affect us in the future, it is the world we live in now and the world we as young speakers grew up in. We grew up in interconnectivity, social media and communications platforms like MySpace and MSN Messenger were our entertainment and socialising platforms for our friends as well as for total strangers sharing interest in music, films and video games. I believe that this has a major impact on the way we perceive the world as young people of the digital age. Our distinctions of nation, religion, boundaries, sexuality, gender and race have been challenged continuously because of our access to information and online dialogue.

“How does this relate to human rights?” you might ask. Well this brings me to the crux of my argument. As young people of the digital age, our direct exposure (videos, tweets, testimonies) has meant that the awareness of global human rights issues is huge and has led in some cases to more accountability regarding those issues. There is another side to this discussion however which is how the digital age has changed the face of human rights and should be considered as one of the main problematics for international institutions. 

Where the digital age has created perhaps more global awareness it has also brought a series of new potential means for human rights abuse and violations. We have already witnessed some of these taking place however I expressed my concern with the limited action taking towards encouraging the international community to respect fundamental human rights. Governments around the world have more tools at their disposal to conduct mass surveillance in order to eliminate opposition and dissent, a key component of democracy. Furthermore, the substantial personal information that we willingly share online is accessible to governments and corporations through various means and we know now through whistleblowing that states are not being transparent about the use of this information. I mentioned how young people and colleagues of mine face the threat of imprisonment or worse toture because of the things they post online, perhaps even things that were not written by them. I brought up many more examples of how the digital age and human rights are intertwined with common challenges and that perhaps the old age of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights means that it no longer addresses the full scope of human rights in the digital age. The declaration signed by all members of the United Nations was originally drafted in 1948 which for many young people seems like a very long time ago. I suggested the possibility of drafting a UDHR 2.0 as a reference to the technology which liberates and constrains us at the same time.  The idea behind this is by no means to rewrite or erase the original but rather to update it, give it a new look and include the future generations based on the lessons given by the previous. 

The Workshops

The workshops took place over the next two days, and were extremely informative. They followed a ‘World Cafe’ format, something we were all unfamiliar with, but I (Anahita) found that it built a brilliantly engaging space, as every person shared ideas.  

Regarding my workshop (Toma) on digitalisation on human rights, I was interested in the discussion led by two young local leaders who spoke to us about Estonia’s approach to the digital age. We spoke on topics such as e-voting (of which Estonia is the first EU country to use) and the challenges this process presents. We also spoke of the dangers online access presents to young people around the world and how the possibility of filtering the type of content young people have access to online may be necessary. I found the workshops useful and interesting given they involved young students and future leaders of Estonia and hearing the ideas they had regarding new technologies and the challenges they present in their country. 

The other workshop about migration attended by Anahita and Jean was also very insightful. During this workshop we benefited from the guidance and expertise of Liis Paloots from the IOM. This was an  engaged debate between one team representing migrants and refugees while the other team represented political leaders and state officials. Each team had to assess and voice out its own vision and most urgent priorities concerning the rights of migrants and potential for more successful social integration by the host country, and this led to a very lively cross-examining debate between both groups.  We really enjoyed this enriching collective brainstorming, aiming at solving the most complex issues such as the management of the refugee crisis.

I (Anahita) would definitely say that another great part of the trip for us was meeting everyone else at the event, especially Basil Golikov, manager and organiser of the conference, without whom we would not have had such an incredible week,  the Tunisian delegation – Ambassador Hatem Atallah of Tunisia, Anis Boufrika of the WeLoveSousse Organisation, and Ouafe Belgacem, CEO and Founder of the Culture Funding Watch, along with H.E. Herman Quarles van Ufford, Advisor to the USG of the United Nations, whose opening speech started off the week with a positive, optimistic and uplifting sense amongst everyone. From the moment Toma and I realised that they were also very set on watching the Man U match like us, (which led to a very funny night out exploring the Old Town for a bar that was airing it live), to sharing cheese straw recipes with Jonathan, smuggling snacks into the discussions,  and debating everything in and between Brexit, to whether my injured foot would survive the end of the week, it was genuinely a pleasure to get to know everyone at the conference. We have stayed in touch and look forward to the next opportunity for us to all meet again- I guess the conference in many ways, on the small and large scale, achieved exactly what it had hoped- meaningful bonds across cultures and communities that would continue to come together to share ideas and make the world better, far beyond the four walls of the conference venue.

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1 Comment

  1. The Center is prepared you to understand the International politics and Diplomacy ad well.. The environment of the Center is very diverse with various background of opinions.
    I would be much grateful if I could get the Scholarship to join that International Center for International Relation and Diplomacy Studies.
    Best regards

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