Izabela Barakovska Learns the Ropes on Diplomacy and Democracy During UN Australia’s Young Diplomats Tour

In January 2019 I attended UN Youth Australia’s Young Diplomats Tour (YDT); a month-long educational program focused on teaching Australian high school students about the evolution of diplomacy and democracy, and its relevance in the modern day.

Before delving into the details of this incredible international activity (IA), I’ll endeavour to provide some personal context. In 2018, I graduated from Perth College and recently began my studies at UWA majoring in political science and international relations. I’m an Australian with a Macedonian heritage on both sides, with my Mum from Prilep and Dad from Berovo, and I am incredibly passionate about the interconnected nature of people, languages, culture, history, art, architecture, and politics.

On the morning of December 31st 2018, I flew over to Sydney to congregate and meet the tour group I was to spend the next month with; 16 students from years 10-12, known as delegates, and 4 facilitators who ran the tour. These students were from all over Australia, with me as the only delegate from WA.

UN Youth Australia is a national youth-run organization, operated by volunteers aged 25 and under, which aims to educate and empower young Australians on global issues and the international community through activities such as the Evatt Competition, Voice Competition (public speaking), State Conferences, Day Summits and IAs.

Throughout the tour, we examined the rich history of Europe, as well as exploring the contemporary challenges within the European Union and its many institutes. The delegation travelled through Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Krakow, The Hague, Amsterdam and Brussels, and had over 30 consultations with relevant  GO’s, diplomats, academics, the European Union and national politicians and UN personnel.

Some of the most notable consultations included:

–   New York Times correspondent – Ms Melissa Eddy.

–   A senior spokesman for the UN High Commissioner of Refugees in Germany – Mr Chris Melzer.  

–   The United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) and Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA).

–    Members of each of the three major Hungarian political parties- Mr Bárány Balázs, Dr Brenner Koleman and Mr Zoltan Kovacs.

–   The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical weapons (OPCW).

–   Member of European Parliament – Ms Hegla Stevens MEP.

–   A representative of Australia to the EU, NATO, Luxembourg and Belgium – Ambassador Justin Brown.

–   Dr Petr Lunak and Ms Gwen Vamos from NATO.

–   The International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT), and

–   The head of the appeals section at the office of the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC)- Ms Helen Brady.

Post-meeting at the International Criminal Court (ICC)

I found the ICC particularly thought-provoking as it was (and continues to be) where the highest-level war crimes were tried following the genocides in Rwanda and Yugoslavia.

Other highlights included seeing divine pieces of baroque art and architecture, such as the St Vitus Cathedral, paintings by Gustav Klimt, Monet and Van Gough, Budapest Parliament, the Prague Castle and iconic Astronomical Clock, an incredible vintage bookshop in Kraków and even the Saints Cyril and Methodius Cathedral on Orthodox Christmas.

The tour involved visiting sites with deep historical importance, such as Auschwitz, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the 1936 German Olympic Stadium, the Berlin Wall, and the Prague Museum of Communism; focusing particularly on the historical legacy of these key places.

Given my Macedonian heritage, I have grown up with an inclination to look at my world on an international scale; very much with one foot in each culture. In 2017, I received an opportunity to study political science and international relations, classical civilizations, and art and architecture at a summer school course at Oxford University in England. There, I was able to spend time engaging with people in topics I have a surging passion and curiosity for; languages, history, art and politics.

Understandably, these topics certainly aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but they are a definitive answer as to what inspired me to put my name down for the application process of YDT. I applied for this tour because of the opportunity to learn and travel with like-minded individuals, and to be a part of something that would give successful applicants a welcome sense of disillusionment by teaching and challenging facts, ideas and opinions about people, systems and events.

I was incredibly enthusiastic by the unique opportunity to learn more about my interests in how the world functions, and sometimes does not function on an international scale, and how an understanding of the interconnected histories, people, institutions and ideologies of various nations have contributed to the development of politics, diplomacy and democracy.

What I believe YDT truly encompasses and encourages is the education and engagement of Australian youth, particularly students, with what is happening in and amongst their worlds on a local, state, national and particularly international level.

Young people, myself and those in my generation, are what I believe to be the instruments of change that are necessary to see conversations and global advancements about politics, gender inequality, opportunity, equity, and environmental issues be facilitated through general entrepreneurial, societal and fundamental movements of change.

Personally, this had a great influence on my choice of degree. I wanted to help facilitate an academic and professional pathway that may one day lead me to a position where I can positivity influence the development and execution of solutions to issues such as food security, education inequity and the impact of human population growth and societal development on the environment.

The Young Diplomats Tour taught me a great deal academically, theoretically and practically – ‘on the books’ – but it also taught me a great deal off the books. In its promotion of youth empowerment, education and community engagement at a local and international level, YDT helped to improve my independence, communication, interpersonal and leadership skills, and the confidence I have in myself, my ideas and capabilities.

Specifically, the people on the tour inspired me to be proud of my achievements, to try and continue to work on some of my more ambitious plans and to never undermine or devalue the worth that I, and each individual on the tour, contribute to the world around us. It ultimately grew my ability to pursue and achieve my goals and maximize my potential.

Now, I’m a UN Youth WA facilitator myself who’s just recently convened her first event, Crisis Point 2019. But beyond that, I’m someone who’s already met and made so many wonderful friends in an environment where I feel understood, respected and pushed to perform to a level I am capable that exceeds my own expectations.

Highlighting the environment of incredible privileged I grew up in, from a stable and beyond supportive family in a safe home to an incredible education and adolescence surrounded by remarkably bright friends; these factors will always be some of my key foundations. Others, of course, include my personality and character strengths and weaknesses, and the experiences that I’ve had throughout my life.

UN Headquarters – Vienna, Austria

Prior, during and in retrospect, a great deal of practical understanding and intuition tell me that this tour, organization and the people within it will also become one of many key pillars to my personal and professional development.  I will always be grateful for the opportunities UNYA gave me through this tour, and very much look forward to one day facilitating it.

Any opinions or views expressed in articles or other pieces appearing in UMD Voice are those of the author or interviewees alone and are not necessarily those of the United Macedonian Diaspora and its young leaders’ program Generation M; the appearance of any such opinions or views in UMD Voice is not and should not be considered to be an endorsement by or approval of the same by UMD and Generation M.

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