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Back | Programme Area: Governance (2000 - 2009) | Event: International Conference on Ethnic Inequality and Public Sector Governance

International Conference on Ethnic Inequality and Public Sector Governance

Speech by Gabriele Köhler, UNDP Resident Representative in Latvia

Excellencies, dear conference participants and dear colleagues from the United Nations,
I am really delighted that this conference is happening and as you can gather from the previous comments, it has taken us a long time to get here and I think it's going to be worth it.

I’d like to say a few things about what I think is the significance of this event for all of us here and also for Latvia.

First of all, the topics of integration of society and good governance is what we at UNDP here in Latvia have been, for the last decade, working very closely with the government. The international discussions, led by the UN Research Institute on Social Development, around the whole topic of ethnicity, politics, democracy, good governance and, however you want to define it, is something that I think we will learn from as UNDP and as the community of academics and policy makers here in Latvia because UNRISD is one of the few research institutes that really has an independent academic intellectual approach to the topics and impartial approach which I think will be very valuable to our discussions. I very much think that this comparative approach to the question of ethnicitiy will bring us forward, looking at integration in different ways and perhaps enable us to reframe and reposition the discourse on ethnicitiy, social integration and public participation and representation of different groups to reframe that and reposition maybe in a different light. So that is the first reason why as UNDP here in Latvia, I was very eager to see if we could have this conference here.

What we’re also trying to do with this conference is to put Latvia on the international academic map. So, together with UNRISD and the Ministry for Social Integration and many generous donors - we made this effort to bring people literally from all corners of the earth to Riga. If you look around the room we have people from at least 20—or if we count the ambassadors even more—multi-ethnic societies. I’ll just read out because I think it’s quite impressive--Belgium, Bhutan, Bosnia, Botswana, Croatia, Estonia, Fiji, Ghana, India, Kenya, Latvia, Lithuania, Malaysia, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, Suriname, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, Spain, Switzerland—represented in one way or the other and that’s quite an impressive tour around the globe I think.

Of course all of these countries have completely different institutions, completely different histories, completely different cultures and completely different ethnic groups but what I think is very exciting about the research that Dr Bangura has been leading is that when you start looking at the structures of representation, the political representation of the different ethnic groups in society, one actually finds a lot of common structures. And what seems so totally disparate as to compare Fiji with Latvia, one all of a sudden finds that in terms of the ethnic groups, one has an exact same picture of how there is an over-representation in this particular case of the largest group. It’s quite startling and stunning to find that structurally speaking there are actually commonalities so that these societies are obviously going through same kinds of questions, same kinds of policy decisions in having to face the same kinds of issues.

So there’s this academic angle to it, there’s a political angle to it and what we would really like to see as UNDP in Latvia who incidentally are in the process of phasing out here in Latvia because Latvia is graduating and becoming a member of the European Union, what we’d like to do is fertilise policy makers’ views and bring together something like an international network on ethnicity and governance rooted her in Latvia but reaching out to many different parts of the world. In the context of the graduation process of Latvia is that we of course want Latvia to be visible in the United Nations system and this international conference is one very tangible way of taking that step forward and making Latvia a player in the UN.

And the fourth slightly surreptitious politics that I’ve been playing is that I’ve been able to get all kinds of different UN agencies in the room together. Those of us who are in the UN know how difficult it is although we all have the same overarching objectives of human rights, good governance, justice and equality, it is very difficult at a day to day level to actually bring people together who are working on the exact same issues. So I am actually very proud that you have not only the leading research institute on social development here, UNRISD, but also the World Institute of Development Economics Research, the High Commissioner on Human Rights has sent staff, the High Commissioner on Refugees and then UNDP itself represented by officers from many different countries—Bhutan, Trinidad and Tobago and Geneva. So we’re using Latvia as a platform to get the UN also to interact and interface.

So I too would like to say words of thanks to all the people who have made this conference possible, most importantly the Ministry of Social Integration, Dr Muiznieks and his excellent team and I might want those of you who are not from Latvia to know that Minister Muiznieks is the first Minister of Social Integration and that in itself is also a sign how Latvia is moving forward and recognising that this is a topic that needs to be institutionally addressed and we at UNDP are very happy that the previous government took such a step to create such a ministry and to appoint such a wonderful minister. I’d also of course like to thank Dr Mkandawire and Dr Bangura and Michele Tan of UNRISD who’ve been in many different ways the people who made this conference come together, made the research happen. And I’d also like to thank the researchers for providing extremely stimulating papers. I’d also like to thank Ford Foundation and the German Technical Cooperation Agencies who among the funding partners – the Embassy of Lithuania, the Embassy of the United Kingdom--contributed to this conference.

I’d like to thank UNDP itself because it’s not so easy to get funding for these kinds of events and my colleagues from UNDP Bhutan and Trinidad and Tobago, I’d like to thank my UN colleagues for actually coming here, I’d like to thank the students whom you’ve met outside from Stradins University who helped us, our small office here in Latvia to cope with last minute logistics of this conference. But perhaps most important for me I’d like to thank my dedicated team at UNDP, most notably Daiga Holma, who is the person who deals with the integration portfolio, all the work that we’re doing on integration in society here in Latvia and who is an expert in her own right on these questions. I’d also like to thank the interpreters who we can’t see because of the glass and I’d like to remind all of us to speak slowly because everything is being interpreted into Latvian and that we give the interpreters a chance to catch what we’re saying and finally I’d like to thank the Journalists Union of Latvia for letting us use this very beautiful historic building which I hope will give our visitors from overseas an impression of the historical roots of this very beautiful country.