A young president of the UN General Assembly praised millennial status symbols such as coffee, outdoor adventure and Bitcoin. Another admitted to the famous green marble that it was harder to rule a country than to protest in the streets. A foreign minister, once shunned because he only had a bachelor’s degree, warned against indifference.
Shaped by the borderless internet, growing economic inequality and a deepening climate crisis, the Generation Y cohort of presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers and other “excellencies” are making their mark at the largest gathering of world leaders.
This week at the United Nations offers a glimpse of the latest generation of leaders in power as a critical mass of them — generally born between 1981 and 1996 — come to represent countries in the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa.
Some millennial leaders made their debut in the 77-year-old diplomatic institution built in the aftermath of World War II, while there were other notables who failed to show up but had already arrived on the world stage. These include Kim Jong Un, who took over reclusive North Korea in his twenties, and Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin, 36, who recently faced controversy over a video of her dancing at a private party that went viral.
Jennifer Sciubba, an author and political demographer associated with the Wilson Center, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, said many came to power thanks to their generation’s displeasure with the status quo, and in that sense, millennials and baby boomers are echoes. from each of them. other. One big difference: according to most measures, life got better after the Second World War, yet many young people today do not have the same hope.
“It would be a mistake to say, ‘Younger generations, they are more liberal,’ which is why we will see a left turn as these people reach the age of influence,” Sciubba said. “They’re not monolithic. Dissatisfaction with the status quo — it can crop up on both sides of the political spectrum.”
Sciubba also noted that it was only a matter of time before the millennials would take their place in the world order. She said the definition of generations is “arbitrary, short for us to understand people.” That is a truth that becomes clear on the UN stage, where different ideologies of the same Gen Y were fully visible.
On Tuesday, during the first day of the General Assembly, two young presidents broke that myth of the millennial monolith when they spoke of their contrasting fortunes.
There was Chile’s 36-year-old president, Gabriel Boric, who used his airtime to lick his wounds after citizens overwhelmingly rejected a new progressive constitution he had championed.
“As a young person protesting in the streets not too long ago, I can tell you that representing unrest is a lot easier than producing solutions,” Boric said.
The failed proposal aimed 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 painful loss was not unexpected, with supporters blaming misinformation online for eroding support for it.
Chile’s youngest ever president said the lesson he learned was that democracy is humiliating.
“It is with great humility that I say to 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 with blood and fire, today Chileans have agreed to face our challenges in a democratic way. And I tell you this because I am sure that one of the greatest challenges facing humanity today is to build democracies that really talk and listen to citizens.”
Meanwhile, selfie-loving El Salvador president Nayib Bukele — his glamorous wife and young daughter in the audience — said rich countries should not meddle with developing countries trying to chart their own path. His speech came just days after the 41-year-old was accused of pursuing authoritarianism when he announced he would seek re-election despite a constitutional ban.
In thinly disguised language and metaphor, Bukele has resisted criticism his administration has received from the United States and the European Union for concentrating power and more recently suspending some constitutional rights under an ongoing six-month state of emergency.
“Because we are free, sovereign and independent on paper, we will not really be until 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, to them to visit us, to build the best possible relationships,” says Bukele, whose current term ends in 2024. “But what they can’t do is come to our house and give orders — not just because it’s our house.” , but because it makes no sense to undo what we are doing.”
Bukele, who is very popular at home and on social media, later tweeted a video of his performance on conservative US cable channel TBEN News. The young president spoke about his crackdown on powerful street gangs in which more than 50,000 people have been arrested. Recent polls have shown that his actions have widespread support, even as human rights groups in El Salvador and abroad say people are being arrested and imprisoned without evidence.
Rosario Diaz Garavito, the founder of The Millennials Movement, an NGO working to engage young people in Latin America in the UN’s goals, said the disparate leaders both deftly disrupted and proved the customary partisan politics in their own countries. to be among the most polarizing leaders. in the region at a time when multilateralism must be embraced.
“We tend to go from the right wing to the left wing – all the time. And this actually separates us,” said Diaz Garavito. “They have shown that they can think differently, in different ways, but now we have to region to find common ground.”
As the first generation of digital natives, a constant theme in the political fortunes and misfortunes of millennial leaders emerged in the praise and danger of the internet and social media.
On Wednesday, Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský spoke at length about Russia’s war against Ukraine, and also lamented how online disinformation is plaguing society, while pushing for “digital humanism” and solutions to human rights on the internet. to protect.
“A lie is not an opinion. For far too long we have overlooked the spread of disinformation that is directed against our common values,” Lipavský said. “Let’s not forget the COVID-related misinformation. We had to learn it the hard way when disinformation started costing lives.”
Just last year, the 37-year-old faced opposition from the country’s longtime president, who said he would not name Lipavsky because of Lipavsky’s reserved stance on Israel.
In addition, he noted, the millennial leader only had a bachelor’s degree.
___ Follow Sally Ho on Twitter at http://twitter.com/_sallyho and for more TBEN coverage from the UN General Assembly, visit https://apnews.com/hub/united-nations-general-assembly