Leadership in Action debate

​On Friday, December 9, 2022, ​the Aspen Institute Central Europe, the Aspen Ministers Forum, the Bertelsmann Foundation and Charles University ​organized a public event featuring two panels with Former Foreign Ministers from around the world to focus on leadership during challenging times and the current state of world affairs.

​The event was streamed online and the recording is available on ​the link HERE

​The whole debate was opened by Milan Vašina, Executive Director of the Aspen Institute Central Europe, and ​Milena Králíčková, Rector of Charles University who welcomed Former Ministers of Foreign Affairs from all over the world as well as the students of Charles University in the audience.

Before the official start of the first panel discussion, Tony Silberfeld, Director of Transatlantic Relations, Bertelsmann Foundation introduced a video Leadership in Action in Estonia which tells a story about the 2007 Russian Cyberattack on Estonia and it was done in cooperation with one of today’s guests Marina Kaljurand, Member of Parliament, European Parliament; Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Estonia.

Leadership in Action

At the beginning of the panel discussion,  Susana Malcorra, Senior Advisor, IE University; Former Chief of Staff to the United Nations Secretary General; Former Foreign Minister of Argentina, Federica Mogherini, Rector, College of Europe; Former High Representative to the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission; Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Italy and Marina Kaljurand, Member of Parliament, European Parliament; Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Estonia reminisced and paid tribute to the United States Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright who established Aspen Ministers Forum. In their introduction, they all shared with us inspiring personal stories about how they became politicians representing their countries and how it feels to be one of the few women, if not the only one, in high politics surrounded by men.

Have you seen a positive evolution in terms of the issue of gender in Leadership roles? Have we come far enough? What does it mean for you to be the woman with power? 

Marina Kaljurand – “Yes, the situation has improved a lot. Before the war started in Ukraine, I could see at least 1/3 of women as Ambassadors in the EU. There are more women in Foreign Service, but when I was a Foreign Minister interviewing young men diplomats, asking them about their personal goals, the answers were quick and straight – I want to be a Minister, Ambassador etc. When I asked the same question young ladies, their answers were more general. And I said – Come on girls! If you want to be Foreign Minister or Ambassador, spell it out! And I am happy that this is changing, now I see a new generation of women that are much more self-confident, and who do not hesitate to say what they want. Representing Estonia, a tiny country is very difficult. Everyone wants to talk to Ambassadors of major countries so I had to work 10 times more than Ambassadors of powerful countries. After Moscow, I ended up in Washington DC where I could meet the best diplomats. In Moscow, I was the only woman among 141 male ambassadors and for example – the Russian Foreign Minister didn’t know how to call me. They didn’t have a word for women being in such a position. It was difficult for them to call me Madam Ambassador or later Madam Minister.”

Federica Mogherini – “I felt many times the difficulty not so much of being a woman but being a relatively young woman or women considered young. I became a Minister when I was 41 years old and I don’t think it is normal to consider someone young at that age. It was a sign of prejudice that was piling up against the generations. I call it myself “Who’s that girl?” effect. I always had that feeling, being blond and I could feel – she’s just a girl. I had spent years in parliament and people who were skeptical about me being competent or experienced enough were younger than me. My Prime Minister was younger than me, he has never been in Parliament and nobody questioned his role. That was not so much of being a woman but a combination of being relatively young women. I am sure there would be much fewer questions if I was a man. I’ve always been lucky that my character brings me not too much to consider of what they write about me otherwise, you don’t survive in this world.”

Susana Malcorra – “I am not that sure that women gained so much space. I think we enlarge the space but I think there is a counterattack, very heavy counterattack against women in power and I’d like to say it here to all women – You have to go for the power. When I say go for power, it means committing to changing things. In order to change things, you have to be somewhere “in the kitchen” being able to shape the recipe. Sometimes it means “peeling potatoes”, but you are there and you have to feel the impact.”

Marina Kaljurand – “I also agree that power has very different meanings. The power of positions that I’ve been in had very different accents, backgrounds, different implications and faces. You can find power everywhere even if you’re a housewife. It’s more about our way of thinking about what we can do and if we can influence and participate in decision-making at whatever level, it’s already the power.”

Federica Mogherini – “You have power in different situations. I don’t feel that I have less power now when I am the Rector of the College of Europe than I had before. I have different power and not everybody needs to go for power. You can be perfectly fulfilling your aspirations, interests, happiness and yourself without going for top positions.”

The whole panel was moderated by Tony Silberfeld.

Current State of World Affairs

Tzipi Livni, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Israel, Don McKinnon, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of New Zealand, and George Papandreou, Former Prime Minister of Greece shared with the audience their views on Cyber Security, disinformation, and technologies that influence our lives. The speakers were asked to share their approach in their own countries without breaking the society.

Tzipi Livni – “Disinformation, misinformation and other ways of lies that influence society, affects the nature of democracy. Social networks were created to connect people but they turned into something that divides people. Therefore it looks like as a problematic situation in different countries, but it’s more global. I believe that liberals of the world should unite, we should deal with it together and think about what can be done.”

George Papandreou – “We have to rethink our schooling first of all. We study at schools for our professions, not necessarily being citizens and not necessarily for critical thinking. We consume information, but we are not critical enough of relations, power and so on. That’s one issue. The second issue I see is when is the information or disinformation being accepted. We have in our society today a very complex and difficult crisis we are going through and it allows loads of misinformation to be accepted. So people come up with conspiracy theories. The third issue I see is who owns the platforms and who is deciding how millions of people are discussing. We should not have private platforms, but platforms for our citizens where they can have a voice for making decisions or at least influencing making decisions. We should use technology to enhance democracy.”Don McKinnon – “We’re all challenged now by this whole information and media running around the world. Anyone in politics knows that if you give a lie online, you’ll never catch it. It’ll go around the world and come back to you before you do anything. It’s not about how to stop that. It’s about how best we use technology. Political parties have to adapt to that, they have to use it for their benefit, not to try and stop it. The way of information is utilized by political parties, can be used to a tremendous benefit of the country, but it can also set the country on a course that should not be right, just as a wrong thing at the wrong time. There is no difference anywhere. You do not change countries’ cultures easily. Trying to change a major aspect of known democracy may not be a full democracy.”

Speakers discussed also about the war in Ukraine and how they see this issue from the other countries’ points of view and how urgent this matter is for their countries.

The second panel was moderated by Ladislav Krištoufek, Vice-Rector for Research at Charles University.

We thank the Verstandig Family Foundation and the Bertelsmann Foundation for kindly supporting this event.

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