Some folks may be refusing to cough up what they owe to the United Nations in arrears and efforts to tame Afghanistan may be going to the dogs, but U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan had one splendid day Tuesday. His star shone brightly right here in Washington's somber skies. World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn, launching the first of the agency's U.N. Lecture Series talks, introduced Annan as "the right man, at the right time, in the right place" and as the first U.N. secretary general to address the bank staff.
That same evening, Annan was awarded the Woodrow Wilson Statesmanship Award in recognition of his leadership of the United Nations, the successor organization to Wilson's League of Nations, and of his three decades in sensitive diplomatic assignments and humanitarian crises. Feted at the residence of Belgian Ambassador Alex Reyn, Annan accepted his award on behalf of all his colleagues--"peacekeepers in Sierra Leone, economists in Bangkok, interpreters in Geneva."
Every gesture toward "the struggle to end all wars," to which Wilson devoted much of his life, helps, Annan said. That implies a "broader struggle to create a more humane world, in which hatred and inequity will find no quarter," Annan added, quoting Wilson: " 'Only a peace between equals can last--only a peace the very principle of which is equality and a common participation in a common benefit.' " The secretary general said Wilson's dream remains his. "Despite all the talk of globalization, the bulk of the world remains largely untouched by it. It is estimated that half the world's population has never even made, or received, a telephone call," Annan told dinner guests at the Belgian mansion.
At the World Bank, Annan highlighted Wolfensohn's theme of how to best integrate concern for conflict prevention into development and the importance of links between security and development. Many wars, Annan said, have more to do with greed than grievance. The case for allocating time and resources to development policies is compelling, cost effective and can save millions of lives, he added.
"The costs of prevention have to be paid in the present, while its benefits lie in the distant future . . . the wars and disasters that do not happen," Annan said. "Convincing politicians to invest in conflict prevention is like asking a teenager to start saving for a pension," he joked. "Each country, each province, even each village has its own particular problems, but also its own insights and inspiration. I believe the single most valuable quality, for diplomats and development economists alike, is the ability to listen." Annan said U.N. institutions and the bank are moving in one direction, focusing on "governance, respect for human rights, and adequate regulatory mechanisms."
He praised the Indonesian parliament's ratification this week of a U.N.-run independence referendum in East Timor, where the United Nations will also manage the transition to self-government. Annan called on the World Bank to help in rebuilding East Timor. "In the past, it has not been so easy to build the coalition for change that we are building here," Wolfensohn said of the meeting of minds and hearts between their institutions.
The Plot Thickens
A scandalous freedom-of-the-press crusade is unfolding in Seoul. The government has jailed Hong Seok Hyun, the publisher of the JoongAng Ilbo newspaper, which has a circulation of more than 2 million. According to representatives of Hong who were in Washington this week, President Kim Dae Jung disliked the paper's criticism of his government and of his "sunshine policy" of engagement toward North Korea, and he has used the case to chill criticism in other media outlets. The government says that Hong, the majority shareholder of the Bokwang Group, a family concern, is being held on charges of tax evasion and embezzlement. The company publishes Newsweek magazine in South Korea. Newsweek is owned by The Washington Post Co.
Younghie Kim, executive director of the newspaper, said Bokwang is actually run by Hong's younger brother. Hong was jailed, Younghie said, because of the paper's reports on the attorney general's acceptance of a mink coat from the wife of someone in jail; its expose on a minister getting money from higher-ups; and last, but not least, its endorsement of the president's opponent in the last election. "This is all politically motivated," Younghie insisted. "The publisher has many brothers and sisters, but tax authorities never mentioned siblings. The CEO of the Bokwang Group, his younger brother, was interrogated and released."
Hong was indicted Tuesday. "This is not the rule of law, but the rule of man. Judges know how determined the president is to get the publisher," Younghie added. "In Korea, my tragedy is all the other media's happiness. This is the culture. I am ashamed to tell you . . . the reverse is also true. It is very competitive. So, we are growing up with this experience," he reflected. Ouch.