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Friendly handshake with the UN Secretary General - Perez de Cuellar, 1991.

VLADIMIR PETROVSKY - the founder of the organization "Comprehensive Dialogue among Civilizations" (CDAC),
Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations (1992-2002),
Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva (1993-2002), Deputy Foreign Minister of the USSR

Vladimir Petrovsky: The Master Diplomat
Biographical Notes


It is fascinating to see the evolution of Vladimir Petrovsky’s worldview and attitude. From a rather closed society with a clear ideological framework there emerged a convinced global citizen who promoted planetary thinking, realizing that we are all responsible for the safe flight of our planet Earth and it does not matter in what class we are flying or in which country we are living. He felt and expressed the fact that if one part of the world is suffering, the whole of humanity will be affected.

The longer Vladimir Petrovsky was involved in international affairs, the stronger became his efforts to promote the United Nations and multilateral efforts to solve the world’s growing challenges.


When the perestroika process started in the former Soviet Union, Vladimir Petrovsky became Deputy Foreign Minister under President Mikhail Gorbachev. He was involved in the formulation and imple- mentation of the “new political thinking.” Together with his col- leagues at the Foreign Ministry he prepared some of the speeches and texts for the Soviet President. An extraordinary document was the Pravda article that came out on 17 September 1987. In this article Mikhail Gorbachev presented a new and far-reaching vision of the world and its next steps and priorities. It was the Soviet viewpoint, but with a clear and open invitation for world discussion during the upcoming UN General Assembly. One of the central elements in the article is its advocacy for the United Nations as the focal point for all international action, and for cooperation, solidarity and trust-building as the basis of all international efforts to create a comprehensive security system. This is an extraordinary document, containing a rare vision and spirit (reprinted in the chapter on the United Nations). It is part of the “golden” era of perestroika, which brought about huge changes not only in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, but in the whole world. The article was followed a year later by President Gorbachev’s historic speech at the UN General Assembly (see pages 158-180), which was received with a long standing ovation.


The peak of that “euphoric” time in international relations may have been the Security Council meeting in January 1992 at UN Headquarters in New York, a summit which represented an unprece- dented recommitment, at the highest political level, to the purposes and principles of the Charter. At that meeting the Security Council in- vited Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali to prepare for the Members of the United Nations an analysis and recommendations on ways of strengthening and making more efficient the capacity of the United Nations for preventive diplomacy, for peace-making and for peace-keeping.

Vladimir Petrovsky chaired the working group for this report, enti- tled An Agenda for Peace, and sometimes recalled how hard they worked, including nights and weekends, to finish the document in time.

Here is an excerpt that captures the spirit of the time:

In these past months a conviction has grown, among nations large and small, that an opportunity has been regained to achieve the great objectives of the Charter—a United Nations ca- pable of maintaining international peace and security, of secur- ing justice and human rights and of promoting, in the words of the Charter, “social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.” This opportunity must not be squandered. The Organization must never again be crippled as it was in the era that has now passed.

An Agenda for Peace became a landmark document for the UN and has not lost any of its relevance today (excerpts and a 15-year review of the effects of the Agenda are also presented in the United Nations chapter).


Observing the current situation in the world, we may look back with a sad eye at this time and at the missed opportunity it represents. It is futile now, though, to pore over mistakes. What is important is to accept that this period was a reality; that the goal proposed by Mr. Gorbachev was complete elimination of nuclear weapons; and that huge progress was made not only in the field of disarmament, but also in the world climate in general, marked by increased cooperation and solidarity in international relations.

Of utmost necessity today are great and good leaders who have a vi- sion and clear goals, and also the capacity and sincerity to devote everything that is needed to reach those goals. It is hoped that this book can make a small contribution to the emergence of those leaders by conveying some of the necessary spirit, which Vladimir Petrovsky so powerfully embodied.


In 1993 Vladimir Petrovsky went to Geneva as Under-Secretary- General and Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva. He also chaired the Conference on Disarmament as its Secretary- General. In a certain sense Mr. Petrovsky painted in Geneva his life’s masterpiece. He infused a completely new life-energy into the dormant European UN Headquarters, greatly increasing cooperation among the UN agencies and also with the Federal Council in Bern and re- gional organizations. He had a strong and clear vision of Geneva as a place where peace may flourish, change is welcome and diversity em- braced and, perhaps more concretely, where specialists and luminaries from all fields come together and define and implement the new secu- rity paradigm. Much of this “Europolis” vision was implemented, and the aura of the “new” United Nations in Geneva was perceived even on the other side of the Atlantic.

The article in Le Temps by former Swiss Ambassador François Nordmann, head of the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the United Nations during Mr. Petrovsky’s era, gives an excellent overview of this time, as does the personal interview with Mr. Petrovsky’s for- mer Chief of Staff at UNOG, Ms. Aminata Djermakoye (both appear in Part IV, Beyond Politics).


It is not only Vladimir’s achievements in the academic, political and diplomatic fields that will be remembered, but just as much, if not more, his personality. Vladimir Petrovsky embodied hope and peace. He had clear princi- ples of life and was guided by strong governing ideas and a power of vision that helped him to find solutions when there seemed to be none. This always positive and constructive approach to challenges; this search for a win-win situation or the balance of interests, as he would call it; his freshness of ideas and openness to new horizons were hall- marks of his personality.

His personal philosophy developed during his long career in parallel with his outer life. In the first decades of his career, the sovereignty of the states was clearly the focus of his (and the world’s) attention. Later—and, I believe, before the international community started to focus on human security—he mentioned that for him there was only one absolute sovereignty and this was the sovereignty of the individual human being (see Part III, Steps into the Future). He was inspired by the 18th century German philosopher Immanuel Kant. He asserted that Kant’s vision of what is now referred to as responsible global gov- ernance really is a final “realization of Nature’s secret plan to create a perfectly functioning state as a single condition of the complete devel- opment of man’s natural capacities.” This is very close to the right of self-determination in Thomas Jefferson’s writings (including the Declaration of Independence) and also the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is the same universal principle that guided the perestroika of President Gorbachev, peacefully manifested in Eastern Europe and other parts of the world.

It was Vladimir Petrovsky’s personal aspiration for peace, combined with his goodwill and patience, perseverance, wisdom and integrity, and his all-embracing attitude that gave weight to his words and made him a friend to many, outside the professional realm of the negotiating table.

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