Geneva Marks 100 Years of Multilateralism and Looks to the Next 100 Years
Exhibition 100 Years of Multilateralism - ©Centenary Coordination Committee
Posted on 12 Nov 2020
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UN Geneva and partners celebrate the centenary of modern multilateralism with a series of activities. Evolution of global cooperation in the Swiss city is highlighted. COVID-19 reinforces the need for multilateral problem-solving. Creative solutions bring lessons of the past, as well as ideas for the future, closer to citizens, decision-makers and experts.

Starting in 2019, UN Geneva partnered with stakeholders from across International Geneva to mark an important milestone: 100 years since the birth of modern multilateralism in the Swiss city. The establishment of the League of Nations, agreed at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, marked a turning point in the evolution of global cooperation, and it laid groundwork for the establishment of the United Nations. Its many important legacies still make their mark on the world of today, and a key objective of the programme, entitled “100 Years of Multilateralism in Geneva”, is to highlight the legacies. Another key objective has been to bring multilateralism closer to citizens and to reflect on how it may evolve in the future.

A dedicated website tracks the Centenary activities and provides further context and resources to learn about multilateralism. The celebrations go into 2020, with the aim of linking with the 75th anniversary of the United Nations and marking the official Centenary of Geneva’s role as a hub for multilateralism, as the League established itself in the Swiss city in the autumn of 1920.

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Following a rich programme in 2019, which included nine exhibitions, 15 public events, five publications, two websites and dozens of other digital products, over 30 media appearances, and over 30 partnerships, the 2020 continued with a similarly strong pace. The year was kicked off by exhibitions, youth conferences, and the 100th anniversary of the Geneva Airport and its importance for enabling multilateralism. A very important related event was the official launch of the UN75 campaign, which saw several events take place in Geneva, entitled Geneva UN@75 Dialogues. The outbreak and spread of the COVID-19 pandemic led to the need of postponing or canceling some events.

However, it led the UN Geneva’s Centenary Team and partners to seek creative solutions, as well as to add an emphasis on the importance of global cooperation and multilateral problem-solving to tackle such immense cross-border issues as pandemics. This led to a related event organized by the UNIS and the UN75 team – a virtual conversation on the occasion of the International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace (24 April) – where heads of international organizations in Geneva discussed multilateralism in the time of COVID-19 together with students.

The immensely popular UN Museum Geneva exhibition “100 Years of Multilateralism in Geneva” needed to be closed and the Centenary teamed up with the Division of Conference Management to create a virtual 360-degree immersive version of the exhibition, due to come out this fall. Another exhibition needed to be postponed – a 40-panel exhibition highlighting the key multilateral milestones in Geneva over the past century, produced in collaboration with International Geneva partners, that was supposed to offer insights for Geneva citizens and visitors in April needed to be rescheduled for 12-30 October. However, a virtual version of this exhibition was produced in order to make this content accessible sooner.

Another project to reach out to Geneva citizens and visitors and highlight the Centenary that had to be postponed was the flying of the Centenary flags on the iconic Mont-Blanc bridge in Geneva. Launching the flags close to the Swiss National Day (1 August), the Centenary team launched a dedicated page on some key milestones that took place in Geneva around that date. Some events needed to be postponed for next year, such as the Vienna Ball that was supposed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the League, under the title “A Ball at the League of Nations”.

The close of the Centenary has been planned so as not to end abruptly and “with a bang”, but by leaving incentives to continue the discussion on the multilateralism of the future.

An event was held close to the 75th anniversary of the United Nations (24 October), where leading opinion makers and experts shared their views on the evolution of multilateralism over the past century and how it may evolve in the future. A series of recordings of these visions are made and broadcasted to feed the future discussions and deliberations.

Finally, a photography publication will be made to commemorate the key milestones of Geneva’s multilateral century. Its purpose will be to reflect on the past and to inspire future action.

The Centenary has been a wonderful opportunity for partners across International Geneva to come together and celebrate the unique role of this city in shaping global cooperation. And it has hopefully helped set the stage for Geneva’s next multilateral century.

* Stefan Vukotić is former Chief of Archives Management Unit at the United Nations Library & Archives, Geneva & former Secretary of the Centenary Coordination Committee.