Speech on the 20th anniversary of the office of the High Commissioner on National Minorities

Opening remarks by Minister of Foreign Affairs Frans Timmermans at the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the office of the High Commissioner on National Minorities, Sociëteit De Witte, 7 March 2013

Your Majesty, your excellencies, ladies and gentleman,

I am sure that the second and third High Commissioners will forgive me for referring to the first High Commissioner, Max van der Stoel – who was my political father, my mentor but also my boss. He taught me many things. He taught me everything I know about foreign policy – which is only a small part of what he knew about foreign policy.

He also taught me that if you want to be effective in conflict prevention you need to be active. Simply giving early warnings as High Commissioner is ineffective because participating states in the OSCE will not be inclined to immediately act on an early warning. He knew from the beginning that you do not just issue warnings. You also need to provide parts of the solution to be effective.

What he did was extremely difficult for a politician. I would almost say impossible for a politician: do good and don’t boast about it. (The other way around is very easy, by the way. But let’s not dwell on that.) Max van der Stoel understood that if you want to be effective and successful, the success needed to be attributed to the parties involved. Not to the High Commissioner. His successors have had the courage and the moral fibre to do exactly the same. They have both acted completely in line with Max van der Stoel’s ideas in this regard. I want to thank them for this. Thank you both very much.

Sadly, Max van der Stoel passed away almost two years ago. If he were still with us, he would have asked me to do one thing. He would have said: for heaven’s sake, don’t talk about me today. Talk about two things. First, say that to blame the other is an essential part of human nature. So ethnic conflicts, conflicts around minorities, will always be part of any situation in which change is occurring. You see it now with the economic crisis. All over the world, people blame minorities, people blame the other. That will never change. That was his first lesson. So this office will probably remain necessary for a long time to come.

He would have also said: even though this aspect of human nature will never change, we can achieve success. If we look back twenty years we can say that, indeed, some problems are very tenacious. They have not gone away, and will require attention for the next twenty years. At the same time some of the problems we had twenty years ago are gone. They have been solved. States that were once unstable and in conflict are now stable members of the European Union. And that is partly due to the work of the High Commissioner.

The second thing Max van der Stoel would have wanted me to say is that his success was only possible thanks to the people who worked for him. He would have taken all his speaking time, had he been here today, to thank the people he worked with. All the people who made sure he had the support he needed. All the people who did this valuable work, analysing situations, providing advice, arranging his meetings etcetera.

On behalf of the Dutch government, I would like to thank every single one of you who has worked in the High Commissioner’s office in the past twenty years for your great contribution to a safer, more prosperous and peaceful Europe.

Thank you very much. 

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