Tuesday, September 16, 2008

United We Stand - Or Do We?

Sitting in Conference Room 1 in the General Assembly section of the UN building, waiting for Russian Ambassador Churkin's special conference to begin.

The Ambassador to the UN has invited the press corp to attend the session on "Tragedy in South Ossetia, August 2008".

Following my UN radio show on Tuesday morning, I made my way to the conference room after a brief lunch with an old friend and former UN colleague. Incredible how short the internships are for the young people here. Wouldn't it be smart to recruit more enthusiastic youngsters and enhance the youthful outlook of the organization as a whole?

As I'm typing this blog article on my blackberry, the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation at the United Nations takes center stage... I have no other choice but start taking notes on a piece of recycled paper of what used to be a GA resolution - one of many...!

The introductory speech of Ambassador Churkin was not in any way different from the previous statements by the Russian government and the Russian media, with particular emphasis on "Georgia's aggression against South Ossetians".

Fluent in English, Vitaly Churkin chose to speak Russian instead during his remarks, urging those "not yet fluent in the great language" to use the headsets with sync-translation into English.

The introduction was swiftly followed by the promised documentary compiled by the Russian Mission to the UN for a special screening to mark the 40 days since the tragedy.

Ambassador warned those present that the footage was in parts so graphic, it needed severe editing beforehand. That certainly goes to both the Georgian and Russian media images and documentary shots.

Following a minute of silence in the memory of those who perished, mention Ossetians, Georgians and Russians, V. Churkin joined the auditorium to watch the documentary in 3 parts with the music of Adagio playing in the background.

As for the images - nothing new and particularly revealing that we haven't yet witnessed on TV and the press covering the events in Georgia and the Ossetian breakaway region during the past few weeks.

Two separate documentaries previously broadcasted on Russia Today satellite channel were replayed back to back, while those of us in the room either made notes hastily (very few, though) or just simply couldn't take our eyes of the footage. A special segment of Ossetian-born pro Russian conductor Valery Gergiev's performance in Tskhinvali immediately following the week-long war was also shown amidst other footage filmed in Ossetia.

One particular segment caught my eye immediately - it's undiplomatic cruelty and animosity was clearly somewhat out of place, especially for a venue such as the UN headquarters and Conference Room 1 in the basement of the General Assembly. A dead Georgian soldier lying on the ground completely unattended while two middle aged women standing several feet away from the scene watched the corpse deteriorate on the spot and spat on it from a short distance.

Truly staggering that a big TV company would even air this piece. Whether you're a Georgian, a Russian or a representative of any other ethnicity, people are people and this was one more proof that we haven't yet integrated into the 21st century if we are still behaving like cavemen. These were civilians, you see, not even the politicians.

45 minutes after the presentation had begun with Mr. Churkin's speech, the lights went out and the conference came to an end somewhat unexpectedly. No usual Q&A following most UN conferences and briefings of all sorts, nothing at all. Perhaps it was for the better, as the footage we had just witnessed could have stirred all kinds of negative emotions coming from varying perspectives, and as a result, provoked unpleasant interactions for some of the attendees. Although, most of those present were Russian delegates and press representatives. I have a feeling I must have been the only Georgian in the room. Not easy, not easy at all.

And that raises one very last observation: a few months ago before the conflict had erupted, there really was no difference whether you were a Georgian correspondent, a Russian one or a Pakistani journalist - we were all a part of the same press corp covering the same organization with equal rights and mutual sympathy for each other.

Today, for the first time after over 2 years spent at the UN, I realized that the world is once again on the verge of going backwards - what happened to the much anticipated democracy and globalization?

Sadly, I'm wondering if it's all a dream and not our very own reality. Couldn't get this thought out of my mind as I walked out of the UN building and onto 1st Ave, strolling down the street on my way to a music-oriented meeting - at last!! :-)

Perhaps the following generations will find themselves co-existing in a multi-colored, international society? Probably not for a long time...unless we realize the urgency of overcoming our nationalistic egos and personal as well as political power-struggles.

Maybe only then we will see what's beyond the war...


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