Book presentation in commemoration of Dag Hammarskjold’s Centenary
Under the auspices of the President of the Hellenic Republic, Mr. Karolos Papoulias
Zappeion Hall, 16 June 2005
This year bears witness to the centennial of the birth of the second Secretary General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjold. The Biopolitics International Organisation (B.I.O.) added to the worldwide observances an event commemorating the pioneering leadership of Dag Hammarskjold, whose contribution to the United Nations largely shaped the organisation, as we know it today. In time for the celebration is a newly collected volume of Dag Hammarskjold’s speeches and statements, edited by the distinguished Swedish diplomat and poet, Kai Falkman. To Speak for the World (Atlantis: Stockholm 2005) offers a brilliant remembrance of the man whose words and actions encouraged nations to peace and hope.
The presentation of the volume took place under the auspices of the President of the Hellenic Republic, Mr. Karolos Papoulias, at Zappeion Hall, on June 16, 2005. The event, which marked the first official presentation of the book to an international audience, was a tribute to the ideals and contribution of a unique leader who combined moral force with subtlety in meeting international challenges.
Ambassador Kai Falkman, B.I.O. Trustee and author of several publications, was joined in the presentation of his book by Professor Carl-Goran Heden, Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, leading scholar at the Karolinska Institute, including Sweden’s first Chair in Biotechnology, and Founder of the Biofocus Foundation, an initiative promoting entrepreneurship in harmony with local resources, needs, and markets. The session was opened by Dr. Agni Vlavianos-Arvanitis, President and Founder of B.I.O. and chair of the event, with the participation of Professor Ioannis Tsoukalas, General Secretary of Research and Technology and official representative of Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, and Mrs. Kitty P. Kyriacopoulos, Honorary Chairman of the Board of Directors of S&B Industrial Minerals S.A. The event was attended by Ambassadors and delegates from the following countries: Algeria, Austria, Chile, Colombia, Denmark, Finland, France, FYROM, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Korea, Lithuania, Norway, Panama, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, the Philippines, Ukraine and Venezuela.
In her introductory statement, Dr. Agni Vlavianos-Arvanitis declared that “a beacon of hope and peace, Dag Hammarskjold’s noble legacy is a praise to international cooperation, human rights, and a better quality of life for all citizens. Since 1985, B.I.O. has been promoting a vision for peace based on these very ideals and on the unifying spirit of respect and appreciation for life. With humanity facing a serious crisis in values, Hammarskjold’s time-spanning personality can inspire the present and pave the way to a harmonious future. We are seeing great threats to the environment, and, unfortunately, we do not have enough enlightened leaders to join forces to build a new society. There could not have been a better occasion to come together in this spirit of hope than to honour Hammarskjold, such a visionary of peace and responsibility, who was willing to sacrifice his own life to pursue these goals. This is a very important day for us and for everyone present.”
Professor Ioannis Tsoukalas, General Secretary of Research and Technology, attended as the official representative of Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and stated that “the Prime Minister has the highest esteem for the work of Biopolitics, and I, as a scientist, have a high esteem for all of the things related to the application of science and technology, which are, of course, important tools for development and should be carefully studied. We have a big and new understanding of our global home which has been exploited, and scientists should be careful to ensure that they protect and not harm the environment. It is very important to learn about the life and the words of the former Secretary General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjold. He was an instrumental figure, and, if he had lived longer, the world would have been better off.”
Mrs. Kitty P. Kyriacopoulos, Honorary Chairman of the Board of Directors of S&B Industrial Minerals S.A., stated that it is always a pleasure to participate in events organised by the Biopolitics International Organisation, not only because of their high calibre but also because of the continuous search of new values for humanity. “This is a particularly significant meeting, since people from many countries and from many different fields have gathered to honour the ideals of Dag Hammarskjold, so timely conveyed by Ambassador Falkman’s book. It is a small book with a highly significant message that we all have the privilege of sharing here tonight. In these troubled times, Hammarskjold’s vision for world peace can urge everyone – academia, business, governance – to reconsider our ethical stance. Ethics should become the number one objective of all governments throughout the world. However, the big responsibility lies with those countries which have achieved progress, not only at their own expense but, often, at the expense of less developed regions of our world. Action should be taken immediately; time will not wait.”
Professor Carl-Goran Heden remarked that is was an honour and a great privilege to participate in this Centenary to commemorate a truly great World Citizen. “I met him only once, and only for a brief talk, but I have read a great many of Hammarskjold’s addresses, and I do not hesitate to name him my great role model. I realise that Hammarskjold’s ideas about social responsibility and ethics must have been very infectious. When the UN now braces for its 60th anniversary and also faces the implementation of a range of very far-reaching recommendations about development, security and human rights, I think that there is a great need to spread the infection once more. For that purpose, Ambassador Falkman’s book can be an excellent vector. Each of the carefully selected extracts from Hammarskjold’s speeches can speak directly to anyone, but for the ministers and members of parliament, who, today, battle over the essence of sovereignty and the EU constitution – for them this book ought to be compulsory reading. Hammarskjold was an operational idealists, as is Dr. Agni Vlavianos-Arvanitis. She is one of the most remarkable examples of an operational idealist which the world now needs as a champion for the biological sciences as a tool for peace.”
In his presentation of the book, Ambassador Kai Falkman spoke of the life, words, and achievements of the Swedish statesman. “I believe that if Dag Hammarskjold had survived the plane crash in Africa, he would have served as Secretary General for another two years, retired, and then probably he would have become a trustee of the Biopolitics International Organisation, because he shared very much the vision and ideas that are now represented in Biopolitics. He especially shared the visions that crossed geographical, ideological, and cultures borders, because Hammarskjold wanted to accept the universal values of man on which the UN Charter was based. He also wanted to create a new and better world. He felt that as long as there were men and women of good will, wherever they were, whoever they were, then there was hope. I think that Dr. Agni Vlavianos-Arvanitis is such a person of good will, who strives to build something valuable for the future. She has a vision and she is a person who can organize her vision in an very practical manner as we can all see here today. I would like to end by saying that even as a very young man, Hammarskjold was very much committed to the kind of issues that Biopolitics expresses here. When he was twenty years old he wrote that ‘I will not ask life to give me anything but I will ask myself what I can do for life.’”
In April of 1953, Dag Hammarskjold was unanimously elected Secretary General of an only eight-year-old United Nations. A relatively quiet presence from his neutral, native Sweden, Hammarskjold was, for the often conflicting members of the Security Council during the Cold War, an appropriate choice. While he assumed his post at a time when the UN was relatively young, Hammarskjold possessed an innate understanding of the complexities of international cooperation and diplomacy, cementing early on a series of very public successes. In his handling of the Suez crisis in 1956, when he condemned the British and French invasion of Egypt and set up the first peacekeeping troops, and in all his efforts to help the troubled regions of the world, he exercised his own personal diplomacy with the nations involved and, under the UN’s mandate, commissioned the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF), the first ever to be mobilised by an international organisation. After easily winning re-election in September 1957, Hammarskjold’s second term, cut short by his untimely death, the details of which remain strangely elusive to this day, presented greater, perhaps even fatal, challenges. The crisis developing in the newly independent Congo both tested and reinforced Hammarskjold’s skills as a mediator, and some feared that Hammarskjold and the UN’s growing role in world affairs would trump and interfere with their own narrowly conceived national interests.
Hammarskjold’s most valuable contribution remains the way in which he viewed and shaped the roles of both the United Nations and the position of Secretary General. He maintained that the organisation’s effectiveness relied on a bold independence from the often invasive interests of individual member states, making resoundedly clear that the UN’s role will be one of an impartial interpreter of the needs and aims of those it represents. As for his own post of Secretary General, Hammarskjold declared that “the private man should disappear and the international public servant take his place,” for there is “no life more satisfactory than one of selfless service to your country or humanity.”
Dag Hammarskjold’s tireless pursuit of international cooperation and peace is still an inspiration for many while his ideas remain highly relevant. Together with the Hammarskjold centenary, B.I.O. too celebrates a milestone, although quieter of course and less observed. For twenty years we have pursued similar ideals in international cooperation, advancing a worldwide understanding and appreciation of bios (life) and the environment. We greatly admire in Hammarskjold what he calls a “fighting optimism” that is renewed “again and again and again.”