Vignettes from my half a century alongside the group of 77.

Author:Gosovic, Branislav


The birth of the Group of 77 (G-77) was the decisive element that launched me on the course of my professional career and life mission devoted to development and the cause of the developing countries. In 1966, as a PhD candidate at the University of California, Berkeley, I was in search of a topic for my dissertation. My advisor, Professor Ernst B. Haas, suggested that, while back home in Yugoslavia for the summer break, I contact and consult Leo Mates, a leading Yugoslav political figure and intellectual and one of the architects of the Non-Aligned Movement. Mates spoke to me about the establishment of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the birth of the G-77 and suggested that my thesis be on decision-making and the group system in UNCTAD.

I embraced the idea with enthusiasm for more than one reason. It appealed to me politically. Having grown up in Yugoslavia, the cause of the developing countries and non-alignment was close to my heart. The topic was new and no one was likely to have researched it. It meant focusing on the United Nations, which corresponded to my academic interest in the field of international relations and international organization. And, importantly for me, it implied strengthening formal links with my country, which was one of the prominent members of G-77. In terms of my future, it meant orientation towards the United Nations and global causes, and away from the temptation to follow in the tracks of an academic or government career.


When I landed at the Geneva Palais des Nations in April 1967 and started approaching UNCTAD delegates and secretariat members with my questions about the group system, they looked at me with surprise and curiosity. Coming from a United States university and with my questionnaire about the group system, as a novice to the politically charged environment of UNCTAD, I must have sounded somewhat like a Northern "agent" to some. For instance, W. Malinowski, the head of the UNCTAD Shipping Division, was highly suspicious of my motives initially. Even K. Vidas of the Yugoslav delegation was not sure where I stood.

Still fresh upon my arrival, late one evening I spotted Raul Prebisch looking into a store window in a deserted street in the Geneva old town. I approached him and introduced myself. Then I asked him: "As an international civil servant, who by definition is supposed to be "neutral" between opposing parties, like G-77 and Group B, how do you reconcile your secretariat and your own advocacy of development and open support of the group of developing countries?" This, a typically Group B polemical question seemed to irritate Prebisch and he responded firmly: "Son, when you go down a street and see an adult beating a child, would you simply stand by and watch because you are supposed to be "neutral"? This first, although brief, encounter with Prebisch affected my world outlook and my understanding of the global mission of the United Nations. It influenced and shaped my work, attitude and actions in the years and decades that followed, and my life philosophy ever since.


Those were exciting and heady days in UNCTAD. One of the first "lessons" I received was at the Fifth Trade and Development Board. As I sat transfixed by the importance of the proceedings, Rapporteur Mateo Magarifios de Mello of Uruguay caught my attention. When I inquired about him, I was told that given his propensity for frequent and lengthy rhetorical interventions from the floor, he was appointed rapporteur so as not to intervene too often during the proceedings. Thus began my schooling in international multilateral diplomacy.

The learning was quick and eventful. At first, I interviewed delegates and secretariat officials by asking questions about the mechanics of the group system. Soon, I realized that what was at stake was much bigger, namely the North-South confrontation over the nature of the world system and economic order. As I became savvy, both delegates and members of the secretariat staff were more willing to talk to me. Often, I appeared to know more about the proceedings than those who led the busy lives of delegates or international civil servants. It earned me a compliment by Diego Cordovez who started caning me jokingly "Gos(sip)ovic".

The Palais corridors were teeming...

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