Letter from Thessaloniki

«Madam President, Distinguished Heads of Delegations, Ladies and Gentlemen.» Whether it was Branko Crvenkovski, the president of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) – «today Macedonia is a stabile and functional multiethnic country» – or the Honorable Ralph E. Gonsalves, the prime minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, master of 117,848 souls – «The world’s disadvantaged look askance at a United Nations which daily seeks to choreograph the dancing of angels on the head of a pin» – or Albert Pintat, the prime minister of the 71,201 inhabitants of Andorra – «Is it not paradoxical that at this moment when the need for civilized discussion between people is greater than ever, that this institution is deemed inconsequential?» – the address was to the same person: Madam President. No it was not Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis they were referring to, as one might suppose after reading the Greek press. After all, Bakoyannis is briefly presiding over the 15-member Security Council, doubtless quite an honor. Yet the United Nations’ General Assembly was another story. When the 61st session of the UN’s General Assembly opened last Tuesday – in the 39-story-high and just 72-feet-wide building which served as such a glamorous landmark in Alfred Hitchcock’s «North by Northwest» – its new president, the Bahrain lawyer and first woman in decades to serve as president of the General Assembly, Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, was confronted with several crises as seldom before. First, there is Iraq and its potential civil war, then the Darfur slaughter which illustrated the weakness of the organization, as well as the management of the Lebanon ceasefire and Iran’s alleged nuclear program. And on top of everything is the never-ending Israeli-Palestinian dispute. As so often before, the relevance of the world organization was once more questioned. No doubt, the most fervent critics remain the US neo-conservatives. They consider the UN as anti-American, as always defending totalitarian governments, and as bureaucratic, unproductive and spending unnecessary billions. However, »we must not forget the conflicts it has resolved, the misery it has diminished, the suffering it has abated, the pain it has eased all over the world in its brief lifetime,» the Greek FM pointed out in her statement to the General Assembly last Friday. Referring to Kosovo, in the same speech, Bakoyannis said that «the solution should not be compromised by setting an artificial deadline,» as the USA insists on doing. On Cyprus, »we seek a bizonal bicommunal federation,» Bakoyannis declared and as far as Turkey is concerned, she stressed, Greece wants a «win-win situation for both countries.» On the same subject, the Turkish FM, Abdullah Gul, referred to «the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus» (which is recognized only by Turkey itself) and spoke of the «two leaders of the island» – unacceptable talk not just for Greece but for the whole auditorium. It has become increasingly clear in past general assemblies that at the summit leaders make speeches, attend roundtable discussions, hold press conferences and off-the-record pow-wows. Once again the UN is touting this summit as a historical mega-gathering – its biggest ever. With a smile on her face and «guided by the spirit of Athens’s ancient forefathers,» Greece’s FM presided over an extraordinary ministerial meeting of the Security Council to discuss the situation in the Middle East. «My appeal to all sides is this: Let reason and understanding prevail,» she said. There’s a traditional view that diplomacy is the art of saying «nice doggie» till you can find a rock. When Bakoyannis was asked – by a journalist from Skopje – about the controversial matter of FYROM’s official name, she replied: «FYROM and Greece have excellent economic relations but… we have to find a common and mutually accepted solution to the name issue.» However, Zana Bozinovska from the Drevnik Daily insisted: «Both sides always say that we need constructive negotiations. What is meant by constructive?» Bakoyannis replied: «We will work with the United Nations and we also talk with each other, explaining very clearly what each country believes. So, we need the good offices of the United Nations to agree to a mutually accepted name solution.» At present the Security Council is struggling to agree on a high-profile successor to Kofi Annan, the secretary general, who will step down at the end of the year. So a question from Emily Kerschner of CNN concerned whom Greece supports as a candidate. Bakoyannis: «As you know, there are candidates for secretary general who have already announced their candidacy. Greece believes that one should focus on Asia, because it’s Asia’s turn. On the 28th, we will have the next straw poll.» The selection process, cloaked in secrecy, hardly serves any notion of transparency or democracy. In the 61 years since the UN was founded, no woman has ever held the post of secretary general and the idea of a woman’s «turn» has yet to take hold. Sure enough there are plenty of women well qualified for the post, such as Bakoyannis herself, to name but one. Bakoyannis misquoted Aeschylus in her speech when she declared: «Man feeds on dreams of hope,» the exact quote being: «Men in exile feed on dreams.» Well, there are also several ladies encouraged to feed on dreams of a general secretariat. Take President Vaira Vike-Freiberga of Latvia, who has already expressed interest in the post of UN secretary general. Or Prime Minister Helen Clark of New Zealand, President Tarja Halonen of Finland, or ex-prime minister of Norway Gro Harlem Brundtland, who also held the post of director general of the World Health Organization. Or Dora Bakoyannis.