A young president at the United Nations General Assembly has touted millennial status symbols like coffee, outdoor adventure and bitcoin. Another confessed 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 high school diploma, warned against indifference.
Shaped by the borderless internet, growing economic inequality and a deepening climate crisis, the cohort of millennial presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers and other “excellences” are making their mark at the biggest 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 from Africa.
Some millennial leaders were making their debut at the 77-year-old diplomatic institution built in the aftermath of World War II, while other notables did not show up but had already arrived on the world stage. These include Kim Jong Un, who took over reclusive North Korea in her twenties, and 36-year-old Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin, who recently faced controversy for a video of her dancing at a private party that went viral.
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 everyone. other. One stark difference: Life was improving in most ways after World War II, but many young people today don’t harbor the same hope.
“A mistake would be to say, ‘The younger generations, they’re more liberal,’ and so we’ll see a leftward shift as these people reach the age of influence,” Sciubba said. “They’re not monolithic. Dissatisfaction with the status quo – it can show up at either end of the political spectrum.
Sciubba also noted that it was only a matter of time before millennials took their place in the world order. She said the definition of generations is “arbitrary, a shortcut for us to understand people”. This is an obvious truth on the UN stage, where the different ideologies of the same Generation Y were on full display.
On Tuesday, on the first day of the General Assembly, two young presidents shattered this myth of the millennial monolith when they spoke about their difficult situations.
There was Chile’s 36-year-old President Gabriel Boric, who used his airtime to lick his wounds after citizens overwhelmingly rejected a progressive new constitution he had championed.
“As a youngster who was protesting in the streets not too long ago, I can tell you that it is much easier to represent unrest than to find solutions,” Boric said.
The failed proposal sought 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 stinging loss was not unexpected, with supporters blaming misinformation online for eroding support for her.
Chile’s youngest president said the lesson he learned was that democracy makes you humble.
“With great humility, I wish to tell you today that a government can never feel defeated when the people speak,” Boric said. “Because unlike in the past, when disputes in Chile were settled by blood and fire, today Chileans have agreed to meet our challenges in a democratic way. And I am telling you about this because I am certain that the one of the major challenges facing humanity today is that of building democracies that truly speak and listen to citizens.
Meanwhile, selfie-loving Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele – his glamorous wife and young daughter in the audience – said rich countries should not interfere with developing countries trying to chart their own course. His speech came just days after the 41-year-old was accused of pushing authoritarianism when he announced he would run for re-election despite a constitutional ban.
In thinly veiled language and metaphor, Bukele pushed back against criticism his administration has received from the United States and the European Union for concentrating power and most recently suspending certain constitutional rights under a six-year state of emergency. month.
“Because if on paper we are free and sovereign and independent, we will only really be so when 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 , for them to visit us, to establish the best relationship possible,” said Bukele, whose current mandate ends in 2024. “But what they cannot do is come to us to give orders – not just because it’s our home, 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 were arrested. Recent polls have shown his actions have broad support, although human rights organizations in El Salvador and abroad say people are being arrested and imprisoned without evidence.
Rosario Diaz Garavito, founder of The Millennials Movement, an NGO that works to engage Latin American youth in UN goals, said divergent leaders have both deftly disrupted normal party politics home and have proven to be among the most polarizing leaders. in the region at a time when multilateralism must be embraced.
“We tend to go from right wing to left wing – all the time. And that actually separates us,” Diaz Garavito said. “They have shown they can think differently, in different ways, but now we need to be able to find common ground as a region.”
Another thing united them: Neither wore a tie, opting for more casual attire to speak from the General Assembly podium, a place where virtually all male leaders stick to suits with ties or national outfits.
As the first generation of digital natives, a consistent theme in the political fortunes and woes of millennial leaders has emerged in the praises and perils of the internet and social media.
On Wednesday, Czech Republic Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský spoke at length about Russia’s war on Ukraine, and he also lamented how online disinformation plagues society while calling for “the ‘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 misinformation directed against our common values,” Lipavský said. “Let’s not forget the misinformation related to COVID. We had to learn the hard way when misinformation began to cost lives.
Last year, the 37-year-old faced opposition from the country’s longtime president, who said 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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Sally Ho, The Associated Press