Dag Hammaskjöld was unafraid of controversial decisions

A memorial exhibition will mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of former UN General Secretary.

Dag Hammarskjöld A colourful personality who was not afraid to take responsibility – that is how Dag Hammarskjöld was characterised in the opening lecture of his memorial exhibition Peace in mind at the University of Helsinki.

Hammaskjöld was the General Secretary of the United Nations from 1953 to 1961, and this year celebrations for the 100th anniversary of his birth will be held throughout the world.

Finland’s former president Mauno Koivisto remarked in his speech that Hammarskjöld played an important role in supporting small member states in the UN.

“When he was criticised for this, he responded by pointing out that the world organisation was needed first and foremost to stand up for the small countries. Super powers could look after themselves.”

Hammarskjöld did not see himself as a mere executive officer, and he took an active role in his post from the very beginning, said Hans Corell, former UN Under Secretary General, in his speech.

“Dag Hammarskjöld came to the conclusion that the General Secretary’s role extended well beyond that of a non-political official and involved having to make decisions that could be politically controversial."

Hammarskjöld held that the General Secretary is obliged to implement decisions and policies that the UN organisations have made, even if these were controversial. He saw this as being part of the international responsibility.

"I know that Dag Hammaskjöld has been and is an important role model for the current General Secretary. Like Hammarskjöld, Kofi Annan has been under a lot of pressure lately," said Corell.

The memorial exhibition is on display at the lobby of the Great Hall at the University Main Building, and is open until 9 April. The celebration is organised by the University of Helsinki in co-operation with the Swedish Embassy.

Text: Johanna Blomqvist
Photo: Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation

Translation: Valtasana Oy

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