A young president of the UN General Assembly touted age-old status symbols like coffee, outdoor adventure and Bitcoin. Another admitted in front of the famous green marble that it was more difficult to govern a country than to protest in its streets. A foreign minister, once shunned for having only a bachelor’s degree, warned against indifference.
Shaped by the borderless internet, growing economic inequality and an increasingly dire climate crisis, millennials of presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers and other “excellencies” are making their mark at the biggest gathering of world leaders.
This week at the United Nations offers a glimpse into the last generation of leaders in power, as a critical mass of them – usually born between 1981 and 1996 – are coming to represent countries across the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa.
Some millennial leaders were making their debuts at the 77-year-old diplomatic institution built after World War II, while there were other notables who didn’t show up but had already hit the world stage. Among them are Kim Jong Un, who took over the reclusive North Korea at age 20, and Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin, 36, who recently faced controversy over a video of her dancing at a private party that went viral.
Jennifer Sciubba, author and political demographer affiliated with the Wilson Center, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, said that many came to power driven by their generation’s discontent with the status quo, and in that sense, millennials and baby boomers are echoes of each. other. One glaring difference: life, by most measures, was getting better after World War II, but many young people today do not have the same hope.
“A mistake would be to say, ‘younger generations, they are more liberal,’ and therefore we will see a shift to the left when these people reach the age of influence,” Sciubba said. “They are not monolithic. Dissatisfaction with the status quo – it can appear at either end of the political spectrum.”
Sciubba also noted that it was only a matter of time before millennials took their place in the world order. She said the definition of generations is “arbitrary, a shortcut to understanding people.”
On Tuesday, during the first day of the General Assembly, two young presidents shattered the myth of the millennial monolith when they spoke of their contrasting difficulties.
There was Chilean President Gabriel Boric, 36, who used his airtime to lick his wounds after citizens overwhelmingly rejected a new progressive constitution he had championed.
“As a young man who was recently on the street protesting, I can say that representing the unrest is much easier than producing solutions,” said Boric.
The failed proposal was set to replace a dictatorship-era constitution with a new charter that would have fundamentally changed the country to include gender equality, environmental protection and indigenous rights. The poignant loss was not unexpected, with supporters blaming online misinformation for eroding support for her.
Chile’s youngest president said the lesson he learned was that democracy is humiliating.
“With great humility, I wish to tell you today that a government can never feel defeated when the people speak up,” Boric said. “Because, unlike in the past, when differences in Chile were resolved with blood and fire, today Chileans have agreed to face our challenges in a democratic way. And I’m talking about this because I’m sure that one of the great challenges facing humanity today is to build democracies that really speak and listen to citizens.”
Meanwhile, Salvadoran President’s selfie-lover Nayib Bukele — his glamorous wife and young daughter in the audience — said rich countries should not interfere with developing nations trying to forge their own paths. His speech came just days after the 41-year-old was accused of pushing authoritarianism when he announced he would seek re-election despite a constitutional ban.
In thinly veiled language and metaphor, Bukele responded to criticism his government has received from the United States and the European Union for concentrating power and, more recently, suspending some constitutional rights under a six-month state of exception.
“Because while on paper we are free, sovereign and independent, we will not really be like that until the powerful understand that we want to be their friends, that we admire them, that we respect them, that our doors are open to commerce, for them to visit us, to build the best possible relations,” said Bukele, whose current term ends in 2024. “But what they can’t do is come to our house to give orders – not just because it’s our house, but because it makes no sense to undo what we’re doing. making.”
Bukele, who is very popular at home and on social media, later tweeted a video of his appearance on American conservative cable channel Fox News. The young president spoke about his crackdown on powerful street gangs in which more than 50,000 people were imprisoned. Recent polls have shown his actions have broad support, even as human rights organizations in El Salvador and abroad say people are being arrested and detained without evidence.
Rosario Diaz Garavito, founder of The Millennials Movement, an NGO working to engage Latin American youth in UN goals, said the dissenting leaders deftly disrupted usual partisan politics at home and proved to be among the most polarizing leaders in the region in a time when multilateralism must be embraced.
“We tend to go from the right wing to the left wing – all the time. And that’s really tearing us apart,” Diaz Garavito said. “They’ve shown that they can think differently, in different ways, but now we need to find common ground as a region.”
As the first generation of digital natives, a constant theme in the political fortunes and misfortunes of millennial leaders has emerged in the praise and dangers of the internet and social media.
On Wednesday, Czech Republic Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský spoke at length about Russia’s war against Ukraine, and also lamented how online disinformation was ravaging society while calling for “digital humanism” and solutions to preserve human rights. human rights on the internet.
“A lie is not an opinion. For too long, we have neglected to spread disinformation directed against our common values,” Lipavský said. “Let’s not forget the misinformation related to COVID. We had to learn the hard way when disinformation started to cost human lives.”
Last year, the 37-year-old faced opposition from the country’s longtime president, who said he did not want to nominate Lipavsky because of Lipavsky’s reserved attitude toward Israel.
Also, he noted, the millennial leader only had a bachelor’s degree.
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