By SALLY HO Associated Press
A young president at the UN General Assembly touted millennial 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, rising economic inequality and a deepening climate crisis, the Y generation of presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers and other “excellencies” is making its mark on the largest gathering of world leaders.
This Week at the United Nations offers a glimpse into the latest generation of leaders in power, as a critical mass of them, usually born between 1981 and 1996, come to represent countries from the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa.
Some millennial leaders were making their debut at the 77-year-old diplomatic institution built after World War II, while other notables did not show up but had already hit the world stage. They include Kim Jong Un, who took over isolated North Korea when he was 20, and 36-year-old Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin, who recently faced controversy over a video of her dancing at a private party that went viral.
Political cartoons about world leaders
Jennifer Sciubba, an author and political demographer affiliated with the Wilson Center, a Washington, DC-based think tank, said many came to power buoyed by their generation’s disaffection with the status quo, and in that sense, millennials and baby boomers are echoes of each other. other. One big difference: By most measures, life was getting better after World War II, yet many young people today don’t harbor the same hope.
“A mistake would be to say, ‘The younger generations are more liberal,’ and therefore we will see a shift to the left as these people come into 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 simply a matter of time before millennials took their place in the world order. She said the definition of generations is “arbitrary, shorthand for us to understand people.” That is an evident truth on the UN stage, where the different ideologies of the same Generation Y were on full display.
On Tuesday, during the first day of the General Assembly, two young presidents shattered that myth of the ancient monolith when they spoke about their contrasting situations.
There was Chile’s president, Gabriel Boric, 36, who used his time on the air to lick his wounds after citizens overwhelmingly rejected a progressive new constitution he had championed.
“As a young person who was out on the streets protesting not too long ago, I can tell you that representing discontent is much easier than producing solutions,” Boric said.
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 painful loss was not unexpected, as supporters blamed online misinformation for eroding support.
The youngest president in Chile’s history said the lesson he learned was that democracy is humiliating.
“With great humility, I want to tell you today that a government can never feel defeated when the people speak,” Boric said. “Because unlike in the past, when differences in Chile were settled by blood and fire, today we Chileans have agreed to face our challenges democratically. And I tell you this because I am sure that one of the great challenges of humanity today is to build democracies that really speak and listen to citizens”.
Meanwhile, El Salvador’s selfie-loving President Nayib Bukele, his glamorous wife and young daughter in the audience, said rich countries should not interfere with developing nations trying to chart their own paths. His speech came just days after the 41-year-old was accused of pushing authoritarianism when he announced that he would seek re-election despite a constitutional ban.
In thinly veiled language and metaphor, Bukele dismissed criticism his administration 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 emergency.
“Because although on paper we are free and sovereign and independent, we will not really be until the powerful understand that we want to be their friends, that we admire them, that we respect them, that our doors are wide open to trade, that visit us, to build the best possible relationships,” said Bukele, whose current term ends in 2024. “But what they cannot do is come to our house to give orders, not only because it is our house, but because it makes no sense to undo What we’re doing”.
Bukele, who is hugely popular at home and on social media, later tweeted a video of his appearance on conservative US cable channel Fox News. The young president spoke of his crackdown on powerful street gangs in which more than 50,000 people have been arrested. Recent polls have shown that his actions have broad support even as human rights organizations inside El Salvador and abroad say people are being arrested and jailed without evidence.
Rosario Díaz Garavito, founder of The Millennials Movement, an NGO that works to engage Latin American youth on UN goals, said divergent leaders cleverly disrupted usual party politics at home and proved to be among the leaders. more polarizing. in the region at a time when multilateralism must be embraced.
“We tend to go from the right wing to the left wing, all the time. And this is actually separating us,” Díaz Garavito said. “They have shown that they can think differently, in different ways, but now we must be able 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 emerged in the praises and dangers of the internet and social media.
On Wednesday, Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský spoke at length about Russia’s war against Ukraine, also lamenting how online disinformation was plaguing society while urging “digital humanism” and solutions. to preserve human rights on the Internet.
“A lie is not an opinion. For too long, we have overlooked the spread of disinformation directed against our common values,” said Lipavský. “Let’s not forget COVID-related misinformation. We had to learn the hard way when disinformation began to cost human lives.”
Last year, the 37-year-old faced opposition from the country’s longtime president, who stated that he did not want to appoint Lipavsky because of Lipavsky’s reserved attitude toward Israel.
Plus, he noted, the millennial leader only had a bachelor’s degree.
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