A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
A few weeks ago, Leiden University College posted a link on facebook to register for the freedom lecture that Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, would give in Leiden. However, on the sign up page it said that seats were very limited and that students would only get seats after seeing how many of the invited guests wanted to attend the lecture. Thus I thought that we would probably not be getting tickets.
The more I was surprised when I and lots of other LUC students received tickets last week. I was really happy about these good news but unfortunately I didn´t see that LUC students also had the possibility to sit on stage and even ask a question. On the way to the lecture I told my friends that sitting in the audience might even be better than on stage as one can be more relaxed, but by the end of the lecture I had changed my mind.
As we wanted to have good seats, we arrived quite early to the Pieterskerk. Surprisingly, there were almost no security regulations: we only had to hand in our bags and then we could choose our seats. We waited quite a while until the lecture started, which gave us opportunity to study the Declaration of Human Rights that was displayed on screens all around the church as well as the people who entered. It was quite an interesting mixture of old and young people, some very formal, others quite leisurely dressed, but all with excitement in their faces.
Finally, the selected LUC students were led to their seats on the stage and then Ban Ki-moon entered with the dean of the university and some other people. After the dean´s introduction, he started with his speech. We were all curious whether he would address the discussion about an intervention in Syria. However, as predictable, he chose to address more general topics and mainly talked about the importance of fighting environmental degradation, promoting gender equality and human rights as well as putting more effort into achieving the UN Development Goals, as “development and peace are two sides of the same coin.” He only mentioned the conflicts in Syria and Egypt when asking the world leaders to listen more carefully to the people´s concerns in order to avoid the outbreak of such conflicts.
After his official speech, two of the LUC students that were sitting on the stage behind him had the chance to ask a question. Unsurprisingly, the first question asked for a comment regarding a possible intervention in Syria. Ban Ki-moon laughed, and said this was the hardest question that could have been posed. He affirmed that the UN was taking leadership in addressing the issue and that he had received phone calls by many world leaders during the last days. He recognized that the use of chemical weapons by anyone for any reason was a crime against humanity, and that the UN was still investigating, but urged to give peace and diplomacy a chance: “Let us stop this fighting and let the dialogue begin.”
The second LUC student asked Ban Ki-moon which single experience he would advise students to seek out. He received this question with more gratitude and talked about a journey to Srebrenica where he was very moved by talking to victims of the genocide during the Bosnian War: “I left Srebrenica crying and decided that I don´t want to be a Secretary General that has to apologize later when we can do something now.” Therefore he advised us students to become Global Citizens so that we could use the passion we have in young years to get to know other people and develop compassion for them: “I really urge you to broaden your mind and care for other people.”
During his whole appearance, Ban Ki-moon seemed very friendly and modest. Before leaving the stage, he shook hands with the students on stage which we all didn´t expect. This was when my friend said to me “well, now I really am kind of jealous” and I thought the same thing. After all, you don´t get to shake hands with the Secretary General of the UN every day.