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The People in Power

An Imaginary Speech

Natalie Zarzour

July 16, 2018

Do you have any idea how many people would die to get the chance to be in your position? How many did die while trying to reach so much less than you could reach here by just opening your mouth?

The following text is an imaginary speech at a UN conference that was written in 2014 with some updates before the publication on the Josoor Blog.

The People in Power

Thank you for the invitation to speak here today.

I know how these conferences work, but I didn’t come here to deliver another hour long, but meaningless talk. I came here with only one purpose: to try and shake you a little bit, wake you up, make you really listen to one thing so many people would say to you if they had the chance to speak here in front of all of you.

I once worked for UN Protocol at one of these big conferences at the United Nations in Vienna. One where hundreds of countries participated, lots of heads of states too. I was studying International Development, and the UN, although often criticised, was still this powerful, honorary organisation to me that me and my peers put so much hope in. So I volunteered to help out at the conference, and it felt like a big honour to me.

Sometimes, in between other duties, I had the chance to attend the conference in the big meeting room and listen to what the speakers were saying. And I did. In the beginning so enthusiastically, so focused, that I didn’t notice what was going on around me. I saw heads of states deliver great speeches, I watched the head of the delegation I was responsible for at the podium desk, attentively listening and meticulously taking notes. He was the head of the delegation that was chairing the conference, and he took his job very seriously.

So did I, listening just as attentive as he was. But at some point, I was ripped out of my concentration by laughter behind me. It was a delegation from a country I will not mention now – but they had a lot at stake in regards to the issue this conference was about. They continued talking, laughing, about something that obviously was not connected to the conference whatsoever. I couldn’t focus on the speaker anymore as I started observing the other participants. What I witnessed would have been devastating for so many people who greatly approve of the UN but never had anything to do with it, so many people who put all their hopes in it to somehow make this world a better place - or at least a less cruel one.

Don’t get me wrong – I was not naively thinking that the UN members and all you people here attending UN conferences were some kind of superhumans. I had enough knowledge about and experience with BINGOs (Big International NGOs) to have an idea about the reality. But: seeing 90% of the people at that conference sleeping, chatting, browsing facebook or playing online games was more than disillusioning: it was scary.

Seeing Austria’s Foreign Minister receiving the right replies to very basic questions of foreign policy in a press conference in text messages from his staff standing right beside me was so shocking that I will not hesitate to mention his name: Sebastian Kurz.

For those who don’t know his name: he is now the chancellor of Austria - the one boasting about closing the balkan route to refugees and using the Austria’s EU presidency to bring migration to the EU to zero. He is the former and years long State Secretary for Integration who, with his government, is now doing all he can to make integration impossible. And he, together with the Austrian President at that time, was hosting that conference.

When I left the conference that day, I was angry. Why? You might ask. And I will say to you: of course you are just humans. But do you have any idea how many people would die to get the chance to be in your position? How many did die while trying to reach so much less than you could reach here by just opening your mouth?

I know that these conferences are not really where the politics are done. I know it is all set before the conference even starts. But when you are sitting here, in your fancy suits and costumes, with the badges on your chest that grant you entry into these halls, to represent your country, think about the people who are affected by what you are doing here, the people you represent.

I am sure all of you, at some point in your lives, wanted to actually make a difference.

So maybe try to remember that the next time you are at work and it gets boring, or annoying, or whatever any human working any field in the world will encounter.

Push your ego aside for a moment, and ask yourself: what would my younger self think of me, sitting here, playing candy crush?

About the Author

Natalie Zarzour, *1989, is a Co- Founder and the CEO of Josoor. She graduated in International Development Studies and gained some experience working on Projects in Zanzibar and Nepal as well as Executive Secretary General of the Austrian Bhutan Society before co- founding Josoor.

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