BY ANA VASUDEVAN & KADY HAMMER
The Saturday morning session began with a moment of silence. Reflecting on the events of Nov. 13, the Nobel laureates shared their thoughts on the previous night’s tragedy in Paris, relating their condolences to those affected while also addressing difficult issues such as the treatment of migrants entering into Europe, the perception of religion in the context of extremism, and the role of militarism in the 21st century. Given the prevalent discourse of refugee integration and growing skepticism concerning refugees and violent acts in Europe, the laureates put into perspective the reasons refugees flee their home countries and how an entire group of people should not be scapegoats for planned acts of terror of a select few. The words of wisdom from those on stage rang through the auditorium of the Fira Barcelona Convention Center, allowing the audience to internalize messages of peace, nonviolence, and solidarity as answers to fanaticism. In light of the situation, this was a conversation that could not be ignored at a world summit of Nobel peace laureates focused on “Advocating for Refugees and Achieving World Peace.”
Over the past 15 years, summits have taken place in cities like Rome, Paris, Berlin, Hiroshima, Chicago, and Warsaw. Originally founded by Vadim Zagladin and the Gorbachev Foundation to bring together Nobel peace laureates and leaders from around the world, the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates (WSNPL) is currently chaired by former President of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev and Walter Veltroni, and organized by the permanent secretariat of the WSNPL. The WSNPL serves as an annual conference for individual Nobel peace prize winners, representatives of Nobel prize-recipient organizations, organizations working in relevant fields, and youth delegates, hosting discussions and workshops about world issues including gender rights, generational gaps, environmental sustainability, and development.
This year, under the auspices of the newly-created Youth Association for Peace (YAP), an organization founded to help students in Europe attend the annual World Summit, 15 SAIS Bologna students were selected through an application process to participate in this year’s activities in Barcelona, Spain, from Nov. 11-15. YAP is currently headed by Master’s students in International Relations and Politics at Konstanz University in Germany and a SAIS alumnus. Commenting on the group dynamic of the European delegation, SAIS Europe student Lemuel Robinson said, “I enjoyed meeting and talking to the students from Konstanz University at the conference. They brought an interesting perspective to the discussions, and I’m happy that they invited us to join their delegation.”
Conference workshops were held in different venues around Barcelona’s bustling Plaça d’Espanya and University of Barcelona’s campus. Among the notable speakers were Lech Walesa, former president of Poland; F.W. de Klerk, former president of South Africa; and Jody Williams, a SAIS alumna known for her work banning anti-personnel landmines. An organization called ShelterBox, a contracted nongovernmental organization that has worked closely with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees regarding Syrian refugees traveling through the Greek island of Lesbos, gave a presentation on their work in makeshift refugee camps and providing basic supplies like tents, survival equipment, and stoves to these refugees in a “shelter box.” In addition, many students participated in drafting the Final Youth Declaration of the summit, based on the United Nation’s 17 new Sustainable Development Goals, that was read out at the closing ceremony of the conference.
When asked to describe her experience and overall impression of this year’s conference, SAIS Europe student Chelsea Sommer explained, “The zeal for positive social change was electrifying and could be felt in the air the moment the summit began. Being at the conference with so many passionate, dedicated people was incredibly inspiring. Even as the mood became more somber in the wake of the attacks in Paris and Beirut, there was still a strong sense of community among participants, and one could feel an even more palpable determination to fight for peace and social justice.”