Opinion: Estonia leaves digital mark on UN

Estonia-convened virtual meeting of nearly 80 countries.
Estonia-convened virtual meeting of nearly 80 countries. Source: Raigo Pajula/Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Nearly 80 countries in the UN responded to Estonia's invitation to discuss the lessons of World War II but... this meeting didn't even take place, writes journalist Toomas Sildam.

What is there to even discuss about the UN Security Council (UNSC), whose non-permanent member Estonia became? The global health crisis? Doubtful. As U.S. President Donald Trump criticized the actions of the World Health Organization (WHO) during the coronavirus crisis, the UNSC will be unable to pass a coronavirus resolution for the second month in a row. The reason is simple — the US won't accept even a neutral mention of the WHO in it. And the US is one of five member states of the UNSC with veto rights.

This tossing around of a relatively vaguely-worded draft resolution like a hot potato demonstrates how complicated it is to seek consensus at the top of the UN, and how much more complicated it is to find it. Estonia is standing there like on the deck of a small ship being washed over by high waves.

But Estonia also holds the presidency of the UNSC in May. What mark should it leave? Estonia took advantage of May 8, which the West celebrates as the anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe — the 75th anniversary this year.

Upon Estonia's invitation, representatives of nearly 80 countries, nearly 50 of whom were foreign ministers of deputy ministers, discussed the lessons of World War II during the six-hour-long meeting. This was the biggest high-level meeting of UN member states to take place since the coronavirus crisis broke out. What makes it especially interesting is that... this meeting didn't actually take place. That is, it didn't take place as is typical of a global organization — with countries' high representatives flying to New York, driving to the UN headquarters, finding their seats, turning on their microphones and talking.

Right now, none of them are flying, and the majority of them wouldn't want to share a physical room as their foreign colleagues.

Estonia convened 80 countries virtually, using Hybridity, an Estonian-developed secure virtual event platform. A team of techs and producers broadcast the meeting globally like a multidirectional TV broadcast from Tallinn Creative Hub, an old power plant on the edge of Tallinn Bay. On that note, technical test runs were conducted with all participating countries beforehand to ensure that all connections were connected. They were.

What did the participating ministers or state representatives talk about? The lessons of World War II would be the diplomatic answer. Also correct would be to say how World War II continues to affect us. One could also refer to a thought mentioned by historian and professor David Vseviov in his recent interview with ERR, in which he talked about how the present shapes the past, as do politicians, who have plenty of opinions about history.

But more important than these words is the digital mark Estonia left on the UN with this virtual meeting. Or Estonia's solution for high-level UN meetings even when it is difficult or impossible for people to physically get together? Because one could sense some small but positive envy in the reactions to follow in the UN that such a tiny country pulled something like this off, but even moreso enthusiastic curiosity regarding whether such digital meetings could possibly become the new normal for global organizations.

Although I personally — personally, and in an Estonia that is just starting to open back up again from the coronavirus crisis — prefer something my colleague Anvar Samost said in recent regional paper commentary — that "We are only people for so long as we communicate with one another in the literal sense."

Estonia-convened virtual meeting of nearly 80 countries. Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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