Nobel Peace Prize laureate and United Nations diplomat Martti Ahtisaari was hoping that this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner would be a woman, maybe even his friend Mary Robinson, the former Irish president.
“But all of them are extremely well qualified,” Ahtisaari said of his long list of friends who could be in the running for the prize. When the results were announced Friday morning, it was Liu Xiaobo, China’s leading democracy advocate, who received the honor.
I got the chance to speak exclusively with him in Washington D.C. where he told me he didn't even know he was going to win the honor. He was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2008 (between Gore and Obama) for his efforts on several continents to resolve international conflicts. In Kosovo, he helped to resolve a long-running dispute that ended a three-decade conflict in which 15,000 people died.
So what’s the biggest problem for peace now? Ahtisaari’s answer: “nuoriso” (that’s youngsters in Finnish). He said that there will be about 1.3 billion young people, age 15-24, in the labor market within the next decade, and this can and will create problems on a global scale.
“If we can’t offer them work and hope, they are becoming a security risk in the world because they are prime targets for crime gangs and even terrorists,” he said.
Unemployed young people also tax social services: the combined costs of youth unemployment in the Middle East alone are estimated to reach $25 billion a year — or 2.3 percent of the region's GDP.
The financial crisis added 7-9 million youth to the unemployment ranks. Some say this is creating a lost generation of youths that are unable to contribute to society.
“The danger is clearly there,” said Ahtisaari. “We have to realize that we can employ these youngsters. We have ways and means.”
He said that the international community needs to rise to the challenge of harnessing the potential of young people in the work force, and he hopes that the world’s politicians will show leadership in that direction.
“We are somehow losing the spirit of community when we are growing. Perhaps we have become far too individualistic and we should perhaps start looking at how we can be of assistance.”
But he acknowledges that there are individuals working toward combatting the problem of youth unemployment. Queen Rania is one of them. She was in Washington, too, this week saying — "poverty, ignorance and despair take a toll no young person should bear. We have to do more. Our future — and theirs — depends on it."
It's obvious, Mr. Ahtisaari, but she's a lady — and quite the lady. Maybe next year?
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