Diplomatic skills are IN

Five students from Evanjelické gymnázium had the opportunity to practice their diplomatic skills in April (8-10) as they participated as delegates at Žilina Model United Nations (ZAMUN for short).

Daniel Dulla (2AG), Julia Ozaniaková (2BG) and Rastislav Jonis (1BG) represented Venezuela, Daniel as a member of the United Nations Security Council, Julia on the Human Rights Council and Rastislav on the Economic and Finance Committee. Our school’s two other participants, Sabina Šimková (2AG) and Oskar Fatul (1BG) acted as delegates of Malaysia. Sabina was on the Human Rights Council, while Oskar was a member of the Security Council. All five students also took part in a General Assembly debate about the Arctic and how the world should use and preserve its natural resources.

The ZAMUN conference is organized annually by the Bilingual gymnázium of Žilina, with the support of various other organizations, most notably the regional government of Žilina, at whose offices nearly all the important meetings took place. Juraj Blanár, the president of the regional government, made a welcoming speech at the opening ceremony, and there were various dignatories present too, including the ambassador of Israel, who gave a provocative speech about how (in his view) Israel is treated unfairly by the UN.

But the most important people are, of course, the student delegates. Around 80 attended, including some from Slovakia (the evangelical high school of Bratislava was represented) and others from much further afield. Delegations had travelled from European countries such as Finland, the Netherlands and Luxemburg, and there was one from Israel and even one from Delhi, the capital of India!

There are several essential elements to an MUN conference like ZAMUN. Firstly, students cannot represent their own country. This means they must research the international politics and relationships of a country they may not be familiar with. It may even mean they have to put forward opinions they would never express in real life.

They must also gain a deep understanding of a world problem and learn to see it from their ‘new’ country’s point of view. For example, the Security Council was dealing with the issue of suppressing the financing of terrorist groups. To discuss such a topic requires a sophisticated understanding of how the world works. To take just one example, if you propose the sharing of financial data between banks and governments, you raise the issue of the individual’s right to privacy.

It is also important to use parliamentary language; a delegate is not supposed to refer to himself/herself in the first person during a conference. So it is not ‘I think…’ it is ‘Venezuela believes… ’. Indeed, a delegate is not even permitted to speak unless he/she is formally ‘recognized’ by his/her committee chair, and must ‘yield the floor’ to the chair after every speech. Even being allowed to eat a chocolate bar, or open a window, is a ‘point of personal privilege’. Thus, the students are learning and practicing formal English during their participation.

Cooperation is crucial. A conference like this is not about winning or losing, it is about negotiating and compromising with others to reach a solution to a problem that most delegates can accept. If you play an important role in formulating a solution that is accepted, it is a wonderful feeling, as our students discovered at ZAMUN.

Two of our students, Daniel and Sabina were attending ZAMUN for the second time, and their third MUN conference overall. This still does not place them among the most experienced delegates (many others are 19 years old and in their final year at school), but their work, both in preparation and at the conference itself was of an exceptionally high standard. Our other three students were all first-timers, which is not easy, but all were very active and engaged throughout. I would reserve a special word for Rastislav, who made several ‘to the point’ speeches at his committee.

It was a pleasure for me to attend this conference with such delegates. I hope that they will maintain their enthusiasm for future conferences, and that others will join them.

James Baxter

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