A humanist, a listener, António Guterres, ex-Prime Minister of Portugal, ex-Director of UNHCR, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, ex-President of International Socialist, was sworn in as United Nations Secretary-General this afternoon, over the UN Charter. A new chapter in world history is due to begin with a hands-on, people person in charge.
The United Nations gains more than a breath of fresh air with the appointment of the Portuguese ex-Prime Minister and ex-UNHCR Director, António Guterres, as the next Secretary-General. The UN gets a free thinker, a man of integrity and courage, someone who is more than an apparatchik, someone who can make a difference, a people person.
António Guterres fought his winning election campaign to lead his Socialist Party to victory after ten years of governance by the PSD, or Social Democrats, under the then PM Aníbal Silva, had led the country to breaking point, with the expression "The Portuguese are not a business. They are people". That expression sums up António Guterres.
António Guterres, born in 1949 in Lisbon, was a brilliant student - in fact he was awarded the country's best student award in 1965, before entering the prestigious Technical University (IST) where he graduated with a 19 out of 20 in physics and electrical engineering. He started his life as a professor, but after the Revolution in 1974, joined the Socialist Party and dedicated himself to politics.
Coming from the Catholic Socialist area, he rose through the ranks and became General Secretary of the Portuguese Socialist Party from 1992 to 2002, and Prime Minister of Portugal (twice) from 1995 to 2002. Simultaneously he was President of International Socialist from 1999 to 2005, then United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees from 2005 to 2015.
His discourse has always been to gain the trust of the people through understanding the people and working for them, leading by example and practising inclusive politics, working towards understanding, working against marginalization.
But there are two other stories coming out of Portugal which also place António Guterres, the person, in a nutshell. One is the fact that his own neighbor in his block of apartments in Lisbon had no idea that he was the ex-Prime Minister, or even that he worked at the UNHCR - she thought he was just another transparent, anonymous regular guy...and the other came from a mutual friend.
The day after António Guterres resigned as Prime Minister (after an arguably weak showing in the municipal elections - Guterres understood that petty domestic politics was not where he wanted to stay), this friend asked me if I knew where Guterres was. I said no. Then he asked "And do you know what he is doing right now?" I said "No, I suppose he is relaxing and enjoying real life after politics?" "No, I will tell you where he is and what he is doing. Right now, he is sitting with children from poor social backgrounds, helping them with their math homework in a voluntary coaching center, working as a volunteer, helping poor kids with their studies".
This is the António Guterres I introduce you to, a people person. And more than this. At the time he did not tell anyone, nor did he wish anyone to know, what he was doing. A remarkable man, a remarkable person, as the world is about to find out for itself.
António Guterres, the People Person, represents the very thing the international community needs at this delicate moment in time, namely dialogue, debate and discussion, the fundamentals of democracy. The personal history of António Guterres, chosen as the next Secretary-General of the UNO, makes him the G-spot in international relations.
António Guterres' personal political epitaph stands in Portugal over a decade after he resigned as Prime Minister after winning two elections, and that epitaph is one of a compassionate, caring and thoughtful leader who aligns himself with and feels social issues, favoring an inclusive and egalitarian society and striving to achieve these ideals not only in his public and political life, but also in his personal time. He is a man of principles, of values, of action and courage. He stands against the vested interest, he stands up against the lobbies and looks them square in the eye. Guterres is no Portuguese pushover, he represents one of the world's oldest nations, home to one of the most widely spoken languages worldwide, the Super Power of the 1500s, which built 3,000 fortresses between Ceuta and Malacca, dominating the coastline around Africa, Arabia, Persia, India and Asia and across the Ocean, giving itself Brazil (by Tordesillas) before it was officially encountered in 1500.
His compassion and caring stem from his personal approach, which is forming consensus through sharing ideas and this means respecting the fundamental precepts of democracy - debate, discussion and dialogue over the ABC of prepotence, the Arrogance, Bullying and Chauvinism approach favored by NATO - and respecting international law, namely following the terms of the UN Charter and not breaching it, another approach favored by the USA and its sickening NATO lapdogs in Europe.
If we take a good look at the world around us today, we see multiple examples of why conflicts have started and continued, and the bottom line is a lack of dialogue. Once again we have two "sides" - the broad coalition called NATO, led by the FUKUS Axis (France-UK-US) and the defenders of the social model, those who respect the hearts and minds of the citizens of the world, namely the BRICS, most of Latin America, most of Africa, most of Asia and most of Oceania.
Let us hope that António Guterres takes the position followed by the Humanists in the international community, which is very much the position and approach defended by the Russian Federation, by the PR China, by Brazil and most of Latin America, by India, by Malaysia, by Indonesia and most of Asia, by South Africa and most of the African continent, namely a multilateral approach to crisis management, sitting all the players round a table and reaching an agreement, achieving peace, development and education - rather than war, destruction and deployment of troops.
This peaceful approach is evidently not possible with the unilateral, holier-than-thou, top-down approach adopted by the powers which only yesterday were drawing lines on maps and ruining lives and livelihoods of entire peoples over many generations. These are the ones that practised and enriched themselves by slavery, these are the ones that practised colonialism and imperialism, carving up communities, stealing resources.
When they told me that the Bulgarian Kristalina Georgieva, who was fast-tracked into the list of contestants for the UN top job, was the favorite of Merkel, Nuland and the heads of the IMF and World Bank, and when they told me that António Guterres had won against these odds, something smiled in my heart. Something smiled for the future.
*Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey has worked as a correspondent, journalist, deputy editor, editor, chief editor, director, project manager, executive director, partner and owner of printed and online daily, weekly, monthly and yearly publications, TV stations and media groups printed, aired and distributed in Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Portugal, Mozambique and São Tomé and Principe Isles; the Russian Foreign Ministry publication Dialog and the Cuban Foreign Ministry Official Publications. He has spent the last two decades in humanitarian projects, connecting communities, working to document and catalog disappearing languages, cultures, traditions, working to network with the LGBT communities helping to set up shelters for abused or frightened victims and as Media Partner with UN Women, working to foster the UN Women project to fight against gender violence and to strive for an end to sexism, racism and homophobia. A Vegan, he is also a Media Partner of Humane Society International, fighting for animal rights. He is Director and Chief Editor of the Portuguese version of Pravda.Ru.