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Sunshine at UN

The drawing of the Security Council drapes was intended to protect diplomats from flying shards of glass in the event of another attack.

Editorial | New Delhi |

It was daylight at the United Nations Security Council last Thursday, and literally so. There was an element of pregnant symbolism too at the grandstanding of Germany’s celebration of its month-long presidency. It was no less a profound moment in history as Angela Merkel’s country drew the curtains open in the world’s echo chamber… for the first time since a bazooka attack on Che Guevara more than 50 years ago. It was a symbolic step when Germany called for the heavy drapes, covering the two-storey high windows to be pulled aside to let the sunshine of the New York spring enter the council chamber and on to its famous horseshoe-shaped table where the great and the good assemble and not necessarily for peace in the world. Well might the filtration of solar energy prompt parallels with the exquisite Matri Mandir (Golden Globe) in Auroville.

It will be open to question nonetheless if the rays of the sun will occasion a bout of fruitful diplomacy, rather than prevarication and indecision over the storm-centres of the world. The point was conveyed succinctly in a Twitter message from Germany’s UN mission ~ “Transparency & openness to broader @UN membership & civil society are crucial not just symbolically, but also in practice for credibility & legitimacy.” The gesture also revived memories of a forgotten but dramatic episode in the history of the UN. The curtains had been closed in the aftermath of the outrage in 1964 when a bazooka was fired across New York’s East River and had targeted the UN building, where Guevara was speaking. The shell fell 200 yards short of its target, exploding in the river and sending up a high plume of water and rattling the windows of the UN headquarters. The incident coincided with angry protests by Cuban exiles outside the building. Che Guevara’s legacy is still contentious 50 years after his death in Bolivia.

The drawing of the Security Council drapes was intended to protect diplomats from flying shards of glass in the event of another attack. And the German decision to open them was made possible largely by the renovation of the chamber in 2013, when shatter-resistant glass was installed. The opening of the curtains was not the only innovation effected by the German delegation.

The ambassador Christoph Heusgen, arrived to chair his first meeting with an 18-inch hourglass, especially made to help enforce the “5 minutes 30 seconds” speaking limit for delegates. Altogether, the German gesture has been greeted by Britain as a sign of “German efficiency”. Britain has called for a Security Council session on Libya behind closed doors and with no allusion to the curtains. Will the opening up symbolise transparency in the UN’s discourse?