Excellences, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
When the World Federation of UN Associations was founded in Luxembourg on August 2, 1946, not only the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg, but large parts of the world were in shambles.
The generations of our grandparents had lived through two word wars and had lost loved ones in conflicts they did not always comprehend the causes of. Thus, the hopes generated in 1919 by the League of Nations and its aim to end all wars were high. Nations that had defeated the so-called Central Powers got together to create an institution that was to practice open diplomacy, disarmament and set the bases for a durable peace among peoples. Excluding however – at least initially – the defeated nations.
Twenty years later, the war the French call « Seconde Guerre mondiale » and not « Deuxième » - since that implies that a third one could follow – showed - if necessary - how short lived human memory can be.
In 1945, the victorious nations however had not forgotten the flaws and short comes of the League of Nations when they founded what we call today The Organization of the United Nations. This great institution has managed - so far - to confine global military conflicts to history, although local and proxy wars are still going on, a terrible experience the inhabitants of Mosul or Aleppo have been making for far too long.
But let us not be too negative, since we are here tonight to celebrate the 70th anniversary of a worldwide network of associations devoted to “working for a stronger and more efficient United Nations”.
In recent times, the UN has achieved major accomplishments that should make us hopeful. Not only because they are important for future generations, but also because the nations of today - in all their diversity - have managed to agree on essential issues. Let me only name the COP 21 or the vital Agenda 2030 and its Sustainable Development Goals.
This cohesion of a global community reminds me of a similar spirit: the one that prevailed in San Francisco, when in 1945, some 50 nations signed the Charter of the UN. In this context, allow me to give the word to another great First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt who played such an important role in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In her book “Tomorrow is now “, she wrote in
1963: “One thing I believe profoundly: We make our own history. The course of history is directed by the choices we make and our choices grow out of the ideas, the beliefs, the values, the dreams of the people. It is not so much the powerful leaders that determine our destiny as the much more powerful influence of the combined voices of the people themselves.”
As President of the Luxembourg Commission for UNESCO, I had the privilege to participate in quite a few international conferences in different parts of the world. And I could see that this same spirit of hope for peace, for a better environment, for the end of conflict and violence, prevailed everywhere. We have such a diversified and rich heritage to share, be it natural, cultural, intangible or documentary. We must be aware that we cannot confine the responsibility for this heritage, for peace and human rights, sustainable development and tolerance to the sole prestigious institutions we represent.
Neither the UN nor UNESCO would be able to function without the commitment and involvement of the civil society. Influenced and inspired by the wonderful ideas these institutions spread, men and women participate all over the world in the exchange of ideas and concepts. They develop sustainable goals and challenging projects, they make huge efforts to protect natural and cultural sites, they work efficiently to help human beings victims of wars or national disasters. I would like to pay a special tribute to the NGOs and to the countless individuals who invest time, energy and money to help others and to create a better future for our children. They deserve our highest respect, since they do the work on the ground, often risking their lives. Without them, the great international institutions would be just that: institutions. But with the civil society, they are more: they are alive, they are present, they make their ideas and aims known, they actually help.
Allow me to quote from a letter the former president of Brazil, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, wrote in 2004 to Kofi Annan: “The growing importance of the civil society is one of the major developments of our times. Global governance is not in the hands of the sole governments anymore. The increase of participation and influence by non governmental actors strengthen democracy and define multilateralism.”
And that is exactly what you do: through your global network of United Nations Associations, your members also help to strengthen democracy and multilateralism by living and defending the values the UN – and of course UNESCO – stand for. Your programs focus on peace and security, sustainable development and human rights, three key sectors for UNESCO as well. It is also due to your efforts that the UN has a High Commissioner for Human Rights, that violation of human rights were targeted in Franco’s Spain or in South-Africa’s apartheid regime. Disarmament and sustainable development have always been on your agenda, as it has been on the agenda of UNESCO. UNESCO Luxembourg also benefits from the commitment of benevolent helpers, as are the members of the national Commission or the ten UNESCO- schools, where students and teachers work on projects reflecting the aims and visions of UNESCO.
Allow me – before closing to get back to the beginning: When the World Federation of United Nations Associations was founded in Luxembourg 70 years ago, the British Association had some 50,000 members and at its presidency – what a wonderful idea! – the leaders of its three major parties: Clement Attlee, Winston Churchill and Lady Violet Bonham Carter.
The Luxembourgish Association was headed by the then Minister for Education. His name was Pierre Frieden, “Frieden” meaning “Peace” in German. In his article about the foundation of the World Federation of UN Associations, an unknown Luxembourgish journalist wrote: “May his name – Frieden - be a symbol.” It is our mission to do our best that it becomes a reality.