Towards a People's UN

A new session of the UN General Assembly has opened in New York. Talk of crisis abounds. The United States may be stripped of its vote for non-payment of overdue bills. A new vision for the UN is needed, suggests Vaclav Havel.

PRAGUE - Today, the United Nations appears incapable of ratifying any document whose significance would match that of, say, the preamble to the UN charter or the glories of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Last year, indeed, I witnessed that impotence myself during the preparations of the UN’s anniversary summit, when attempts were made behind the scenes to adopt a concise document of a declaratory nature that would respond, in a fundamental way, to the changes that have taken place in the world over the past fifty years.

While taking part in those preparations, I soon realized how difficult it now is to reach global agreement on anything. It is not that no one was willing to agree to the proposed texts, but many were concerned about who wrote them, and whether the authors were not people whom they should oppose. Others wanted to have some phrase or paragraph added or deleted for reasons of sheer prestige. As a result of this -- not surprisingly -- no document of any nature was produced.

Despite this failure, and the sterility it betokens, I still believe that those of us who want to can make an effort to highlight the spiritual dimension and spiritual origin of the values guarded by the United Nations, and to translate those values into the organization's practical activities. If a better future for this world lies in the realm of the spirit, in the realm of moral order, and in a renewed sense of responsibility for this world - as I believe it must and does - who but the United Nations should be the one to catalyze this again and again?