My Trip to UN General Assembly: Facade of Every Country Has A Voice

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending a live session at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City. It was a very cool experience and I am thankful that I had the opportunity. Working at the United Nations still feels like a fantasy to me. I graduated from law school five months ago and here I am rubbing elbows with the people and organizations that run planet Earth. After going through more than a few security checkpoints and proudly displaying my UNGA all-access pass at each one, I reached the assembly hall for the 6th plenary meeting. I made sure that I was there to hear President Barack Obama give his speech.

The speech was not a groundbreaking and awe-inspiring piece of oratory, but it was enjoyable (with a few predictable campaign bullets). I was a little surprised at how enamored the entire room was of Obama’s presence. His voice does echo with a calming tone like he is Superman’s father, Jor-El. But this is New York City and the United Nations headquarters surely does not represent the rest of the city or the country for that matter. The climate in the room felt like he was giving a State of the Union address. Hanging on his every word and applause every 2 minutes or so. After he concluded and left, there was a 10-minute intermission.

The president of the Republic of Serbia, Tomislav Nikolic, came to the podium and the room seemed to forget that he was even up there. Yes, it was not delivered in English but I grabbed the earpiece under my seat to get a live English translation of what he was saying. A handsome majority of the 193 country tables were hustling and bustling around the room. Some people were walking back and forth, seemingly engaged in serious tasks. Others were simply standing and having conversations with one another. I observed several tables actually sitting and listening, but I had to scan the room to find them. All the while, President Nikolic is delivering his speech and all of these people (unless they can translate/understand Serbian at the same time that they are talking and acting) have absolutely no idea what he is saying.

It is my understanding that the United Nations stands for the ideal of “every country has a voice,” and yes, each country has representatives/head of states that come before the General Assembly and talk. But if no one listens to what the person is saying, what is really the point? It seems to me that it is more respectful to not allow a person to come stand in front of you and speak opposed to having them prepare a speech, come, and be utterly ignored them as they deliver it. Or do what the Israelis did when Ahmadinejad was speaking on Monday: make a grand exodus (they were not the only nation to do).

Now I know I’m a young, idealist-minded individual and some of my friends and family have said that I have a Batman-complex (Thanks, Mom). Maybe I’m too naïve and just don’t fully grasp how this type of things works yet. But I am having a hard time understanding why the president of the Republic of Serbia cannot have the entire room’s undivided attention for 15 minutes just as the president of the United States did at the United Nations General Assembly. What is the real harm/ issue/ problem there?

At the end of the day, it is all about respect. The word has many meanings and nuances but I believe that many nations lose respect and more importantly, self-respect. History has taught us that the victors have the privileges of writing the history books. We all know that the stories we read may not/probably do not encompass the entire situation i.e. the voices of the defeated are silenced. But it really struck a chord in me that if those inside the United Nations General Assembly cannot give one president their undivided attention for 15 minutes while just previously doing the same for another president, it does not help to have a voice at all if no one will listen. If I were a Serbian citizen and sat through both speeches, I would feel terribly disrespected.

It’s as simple as this: If you wish for someone to listen to what you are saying and respond in some manner, you owe them the exact same thing. Simple reciprocity. There is absolutely no point in having a voice yourself, using it, and expecting others to listen if you will not do the same for others. The trouble begins when you don’t listen and then try to act.