In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity (Einstein)
We should never give up. We should never lose belief in the light ahead, despite what we have been experiencing for over a year.
So, what has been happening in our heads and hearts over this year? A year ago, it was as if life stopped or got “locked”. For many people the year turned out to be tragic – lost ones were mourned, people got seriously ill, and everyone lost something. This includes many things we had taken for granted, like our freedoms: freedom of movement, freedom to gather, freedom to be part of an audience. It could be shocking and traumatising, but as we saw more and more tragedies around us, we were forced to step back from our emotions and realise that our loss of freedoms saved lives. We had to limit ourselves to help essential workers provide care and save lives.
We do not have to see this as a lost year. We have learned a lot about how to do things differently. To continue essential work, we learned teleconferencing: how to remotely conduct meetings and negotiate agreements. Our achievements in ‘online diplomacy’ open up future possibilities, though at the time we were only doing what was necessary in the only way we could. Or, almost the only way. Even through the worst times it was clear that important negotiations must be in person, such as the Syria or Libya talks, or meetings among state leaders. However, the potential for online diplomacy is huge, and it was something the pandemic taught us.
It also taught us resourcefulness – turning obstacles into opportunities. As the saying goes, “a stone can be an obstacle, or it can be a step”, and for some people this lockdown was opportunity for deeper reflection. It could also be used to do jobs which had been postponed and think of better ways to do them after lockdown. Or some people may have done none of these things, and just taken a break from their life, which can be just as valuable.
Historically, the great Russian poet Pushkin wrote a great cycle of poems as well as finishing his epic ‘Yevgeny Onegin’ while in quarantine from cholera in the small town of Boldino. Many of the late great works of Shakepeare were written when London was quarantined by plague (e.g. ‘King Lear’, ‘Macbeth’, ‘Anthony and Cleopatra’). Furthermore, Newton’s annus mirabilis, when he discovered the laws which are the basis of most applied physics, was also a year of enforced contemplation caused by plague lockdown.
On our UNOG level, lockdown has led to us discovering new talents in our colleagues. This issue contains interviews with our Director-General Tatyana Valovaya, who was revealed as a superb photographer through her black-and-white exhibition, and with Diva International Diplomat Editor-in-Chief Marit Fosse, who turns out to be a talented artist. Marit, as EiC, has often interviewed others but been too modest to speak about herself. This magazine, however, features her talents not only for writing history, but also as a gifted painter, often invited to international exhibitions.
The pandemic is not yet over but it too shall pass, and we can already see the light after the darkness. Maybe it is a little faint at the moment, but we are ready for a new day armed with new knowledge and experience. We have taken a break, rethought the way we live, written new things, explored new issues and recognised how much we all need each other. I wish you happiness, safety, creativity and to never lose belief in the bright light ahead!