At Estonia’s initiative, 80 countries across the world discussed lessons for peace from the Second World War and the current security situation

Yesterday 8 May, the largest high-level gathering of UN member states since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis was held as part of Estonia’s presidency of the UN Security Council.

The six-hour meeting brought together nearly 80 countries, around 50 of which were represented at a ministerial level, to exchange thoughts on lessons learnt from the Second World War. All the Security Council members were represented, with almost half attending with high-level participants: Germany, France, Belgium, Vietnam, United States and the United Kingdom in addition to Estonia.

”Yesterday’s meeting was the largest international event to mark the 75th anniversary of the Second World War in Europe. It thwarted, in front of the world, Russia’s attempts to use 9 May to manipulate history. The acknowledgment that the Second World War began with the secret protocol of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and that the end of hostilities unfortunately did not bring freedom to many European peoples rang clearly. We also reminded the international community of Russia’s ongoing aggression against its neighbours in today’s Europe,” Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu said. Reinsalu stressed that yesterday’s event achieved its objectives in full. ”Under Estonia’s leadership, UN member states gave a clear signal of the importance of international exchange at a high level; we defended historical truth from manipulation and reminded the world of the ongoing security crisis in Europe,“ the minister highlighted.

He added that Estonia made history by bringing together so many ministers and countries from across the world for a video meeting. Estonia’s Permanent Representative to the UN Sven Jürgenson concurred. ”My colleagues and I have received countless congratulatory messages. We left our digital footprint and took organising a high-level meeting at the UN to a completely new level,” the ambassador said. Estonia showed that elected members of the Security Council could have an impact to help set an example and adapt to crisis conditions.

The foreign minister thanked everyone who helped to commemorate yesterday’s anniversary. ”I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to our briefers: High Representative of the European Union Josep Borrell Fontelles, UN Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo and Professor of History at Yale University Timothy Snyder. I also thank all the participants and of course Estonian diplomats who helped put on such an impressive event,” Reinsalu said. Minister Reinsalu particularly praised the secure virtual events platform Hybridity, which was developed in Estonia and helped bring such a technically complex event to life. A technical test was conducted with each participating country and a team of technicians and directors helped make the event into a complete whole and broadcast the event to the entire world from the Creative Hub in Tallinn.

One of the recurring themes of the event was support for the rules-based world order created after the Second World War and the need to avoid the mistakes of the past in order to overcome the current crisis.

Professor of History at Yale University Timothy Snyder started his statement with the acknowledgement that acts of memory cannot change the past but they can affect the future. According to Snyder, historians insist that we must also remember the beginning of the war. ”The date [8 May] means different things to different people. At the end of the Second World War, the USSR reclaimed the territories that it was allowed to take from Hitler in 1939. This means that sovereign states such as Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia again lost their sovereignty at the end of the Second World War,” Snyder explained.

Professor Snyder also noted that the pandemic poses a technical challenge but also a moral challenge, which is why we need a language that speaks to as much of the world as possible.

According to Josep Borrell, who represented the European Union, it is important that human rights are upheld equally everywhere and humanitarian access to vulnerable populations is guaranteed. The European Union has been one of the earliest and most vocal backers of the UN Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire in order to focus on the fight against the coronavirus. He added that we must ensure effective global action on new security threats – including those that use cyber technologies. The current situation “is a test for humanity, but also for the multilateral system itself,” Borrell said.

UN Under-Secretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo similarly emphasised in her statement that how we react to the new challenge before us – the COVID-19 pandemic – could be as significant as how the world rebuilt after fascism was vanquished. She also added that full peace and reconciliation have still not been achieved in Europe, as evidenced by the crises in Georgia and Ukraine.

You can rewatch the meeting from the Foreign Ministry’s Youtube and Facebook channels. National statements are being uploaded here.

Video of Foreign Minister Reinsalu’s statement: