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Darko: Well, it all began with this girl... Just kidding (!) Looking back I think the first factor was to have luck in a plenty of unfortunate circumstances that life brings with it. I was very lucky to have the opportunity to travel, live and learn abroad, something I owe mainly to my parents and, if we want to go down that road, to my country falling pretty much apart during the 1990s. Destiny makes you strand time and again and you have to start integrating all over in new places. But then, all this defines who you are, gives you a unique perspective on the world and people and shapes your interest in things.
I think this may be why I developed an early interest in issues around history, geography, politics, languages…and what eventually drew my attention to that flyer on the high school announcement board. It invited students to apply for the newly formed MUN delegation. This was some 10 years ago, I was living in Hamburg and we prepared for some (pretty unforgettable) MUNOLs. By that time I was honestly thinking about the world of diplomacy as a career path (probably like many of first time MUNers). It was quite fun to ‘suit up’, hold speeches and pretend that what one said actually mattered to people in the room, to have the ability to shape events.
So, I went down that road, but would never expect it would change me to actually want something different. Consecutive MUNs enriched me mostly by having to interact with people from different countries and cultures, expanding my horizon and challenging my views of different subjects, understanding that things are more complex that one would expect and that actually everything is subject to interpretation or individual interests.
It was an exciting time and a lot of serious fun but my heart slowly wandered away from diplomacy to development and humanitarian affairs, partly due to disillusionment, partly due to a newfound passion. How I actually got into the UN? On the surface, by doing what I loved, working hard, not stopping to learn, and being always ready to seize the opportunity once it comes. In practice: a friend of mine, with whom we organized EuroMUN, saw the stuff I was posting on Facebook and then shared with me this link. I applied and six months later found myself in The Gambia…yep, another vagary of life. (Dear friend, if you read this you should know you saved my life!).
MUNPlanet: You are the founder of EuroMUN in Maastricht. Why and how you got the idea to go down that road?
Darko: I think initially it was the desire to do something beyond the university curriculum, something that would enrich me personally and where I would put my whole heart into. Doing an additional course was out of question (!) but since I was passionate about international relations, development, inter-cultural exchange, topics of global appeal, quite naturally the idea came to do something around the UN, but something that would be very practical in nature. The whole point was actually to give some more meaning to my studies – a pretty selfish act actually.
MUNPlanet: How do you see the role for MUNs in general, and EuroMUN in particular, in connecting young people to the real world problems?
Darko: What EuroMUN has in common with other conferences is of course to bring to the attention of young people concrete problems of relevance to the world and challenge them to contribute to their solution, of course constrained by the straight jacket of so-called national interests. Acquiring and practicing soft skills in debating, negotiating, drafting, presenting is quite naturally part of the package and may benefit conference participants in their personal development and future careers.
But, the initial idea behind EuroMUN was for it to be more than just a conference where people from different backgrounds can meet, expand their horizon, practice oratory skills, flirt or compete in suiting up (though the latter can be pretty fun!). It was also aimed to be a force that would engage young people beyond the conference, inspire critical thinking and promote a set of positive values, all rooted in the idealism of Dag Hammarskjold.
An attempt was made to encourage delegates to contribute to humanity beyond just debating, to provoke a culture of active involvement and giving back, to inspire hope and draw motivation that the voice and role of each of us matters in making this world a better place on concrete issues of concern. I hope that this is the path the conference will keep going in the future. I think the real world problems are just too big and important to be left to a few days of simulation. Who else than MUN alumni would be in a better position to address them in the future!
Darko: I see a very bright future for MUNs, especially given the increasing interconnectedness of our world, increasing opportunities for young people, the development of new technologies and easier access to information. I’m pretty convinced that the importance of MUNs will grow with every year, even finding its way into the regular school and university curricula, and I would not be surprised if in some years from now delegates meet each other again in the real world discussing concrete issues and looking for real solutions. Having that connection from our MUN ‘career’ will surely make negotiations easier and outcomes more likely to be of a win-win nature (common drinking experiences seem to be particularly bonding).
We should not underestimate such an experience and the transformative power MUNs may have on people’s attitudes, by extension on future decisions in the international arena. That’s why I think it will be important that MUNs are able to instil a set of positive values that would stick with the delegates for life, something that would make them more immune to selfishness, shortsightedness and narrow-mindedness so typical of much of the political discourse we often see on TV, and more likely to embrace common objectives.
What we as MUN organizers or MUN alumni should be trying to get across is that the work does not stop with the delegate’s dance but that it can be the beginning of a long journey to make a positive contribution to (our shared) world, at our own individual pace and sphere of influence of course. Getting involved in projects or supporting causes of a social nature is one dimension of it, developing a whole culture of solidarity and basing our future decisions in our jobs on that type of culture is yet another dimension. Of course, all this probably sounds as overloaded idealism but I think we simply cannot afford to do less than that.
MUNPlanet: You held a memorable speech at the closing of the EuroMUN 2008, which was full of idealism and enthusiasm that MUNs can drive the change in the world today. Having several years of field experience with the UN, what is your opinion about the potential for such a change?
Darko: The more I learn about this world the more I am concerned about its future, but also the more I draw inspiration to contribute my little part and do something about it. I think by now we have reached a stage where we simply cannot afford to give in to complacency. Looking at various reports in circulation, I have the impression that the condition of our planet has never been as precarious and the imperative for action as urgent as it is now. Our generation is at the frontline of this future and it should be also a key force behind the change of policies, decisions, attitudes… MUNers are most likely to be equipped with the culture and skill set required to effect that change.
About idealism, I’m not unaware of the challenges that lie ahead of us and definitely it won’t be easy to accomplish that change. But I feel if we want to survive as mankind we have no choice but to be just that, idealistic, and to inspire action based on a broader sense of solidarity. I think everything else would be irresponsible and short sighted and something we simply cannot afford. The issues are just too complex and our countries (and problems) too interdependent. The more I learn and experience through my current job the more I appreciate the transformative power MUNs can have in that regard and the more I’m feeling part of a shared future.
Darko: I think it’s the perfect time MUNPlanet came to being and I’m optimistic it will be a success! Otherwise it would have to be invented! It has so many different features I think every MUNer will find something of interest. Personally, I hope it will become a platform that will bring future leaders together and something we can all relate to once our voice matters in the real world. I hope it will be one of those tools that will help the world become a better place.
Darko: I think everything that has to do with the availability of and access to the basic necessities of life and does not respect national boundaries, in particular: food insecurity, water scarcity, overfishing, soil erosion, deforestation, desertification, rising sea-levels, diminishing biodiversity, growing income inequality. Put this into a context of exponential population growth, climate change and globalization and you have a perfect recipe for a disaster. Not a pretty positive outlook but one that is simply crying for being addressed beyond the domain of ‘national interest’. MUNers, job opportunities for saving the world are plentiful…go for it.
MUNPlanet: You now work for the WFP in Myanmar. How has your multicultural experience and background helped you in your career?
Darko: I think without it I wouldn’t be where I am now, most likely because it helped me develop an interest in this type of job and shape my personality. I guess we all share that feeling that once we step out of our national boundaries and start exploring, we may get pretty uprooted, maybe develop a new sense of identity. I think this sense of identification with people from around the world and the ability to appreciate other ways of doing things, other cultures, is a very important part of it and helps immensely to do this type work. MUNs have of course been a major part of it too.
MUNPlanet: Darko, thank you very much for this inspiring and thought provoking conversation. We hope that MUNers will find this interview stimulating for their future endeavors, and continue to seek and share knowledge that will drive the world ahead.
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