Signing up for studentafton I didn’t really know what to expect – I had never been before and didn’t know much about the speaker of the night – Anders Kompass. But I was not disappointed.
Before choosing to attend Studentafton all I really knew about it was that Fredrik Reinfeldt was hosted as a guest last semester. Studentafton is in their own definition “an independent forum for speech and debate”. They have since their founding in 1905 hosted a wide variety of guests, which have led to both debates and concerts. People have gathered at their events to “honor the tradition of sustaining freedom of speech”. A selection of prior guests includes Will Ferrell, Anna Lindh and Ingvar Kamprad.
As I said earlier I didn’t know much about the speaker either – Anders Kompass. To be completely honest I couldn’t remember hearing the name anywhere, I jokingly told some of my friends that it was the guy who invented the compass (to my surprise some of them took my word for it, for trivia, the compass was invented sometime during the 11th century). However, after a quick Google search I learned that Anders Kompass was the whistleblower (even though he doesn’t see him- self as one) who exposed the UN for trying to cover up that French peacekeeping troops had traded food and supplies for sexual favors with boys and girls ranging from ages eight and fifteen. After learning who he is my interest for the event increased drastically. I remember reading about the unravelling of these events a couple of years ago, and that I was very surprised: how could something like this happen in the UN, are they not supposed to be the good force in the world? The UN responded to the incident with conducting a predetermined internal investigation which ended with Anders being suspended for “breaking protocol”.
Fast forward to the time of the event. The city hall (where Studentafton is being hosted) was full – tickets were sold out. The event started with the hostess welcoming everyone and going through the schedule of the evening; first Anders would hold a short speech, then the moderator would ask Anders some predetermined questions and then the event would end with questions from the audience. Secondly, she briefly introduced both Anders and the moderator of the evening.
Finally, the big moment had ar- rived – with Anders being the big moment. As planned he opened with a short address, talking about where we (the world) are headed and how important it is to learn from previous mistakes. He finished with a quote from his own role model Dag Hammarskjöld – stating the importance for the UN to never stop evolving – and that the reason for his own suspension was because of this major flaw in the UN as an organization today. It was met with a long round of applause – to which Anders responded with: “That’s a very warm welcome for an old Uppsala student” followed by laughter.
After finishing his speech, it was time for the moderated questions. Anders was asked about his youth, how he got into working for the UN, his thoughts about the UN today and to sum up how everything happened back when he was suspended. He explained that after going for his exchange during his time at Uppsala he never really returned – he looked at his field work in Guatemala, Mexico and Colombia (to name a few) as a prolonging of his exchange year – in short, an exchange term that never really ended.
He calmly told us about sitting down with the FARC guerilla in the middle of nowhere discussing their situation and any messages they wanted to pass along. Within an hour, he would be back in Bogotá having discussions with the wealthiest business elite in the country, including the president. When he talked about all the horrors he had seen around the world, you could hear his voice change – it was like he experienced everything one more time. You could hear the anger and desperation at the tip of his tongue. He once again stressed the importance to learn from past mistakes.
I wouldn’t say Anders was very eager to tell us about the whistle- blowing incident (probably for telling it a countless number of times) but he did nonetheless. We were told that after receiving the report about the sexual assault he turned to the French government so they could put a stop to it as soon as possible (which they did). The UN didn’t like this – they claimed he had leaked the report (which would be true if he had given it to a media outlet) and thus they launched the internal investigation that would lead to Anders suspension. But Anders decided to appeal the sentence which made the records and the report public. This is what made it accessible to the media, which rapidly evolved into global news and started the worldwide outrage against the UN. After facing heavy criticism worldwide, the current Secretary- General of the UN Ban Ki-moon appointed an independent panel that processed Anders’ appeal. He was cleared of all charges as well as his suspension.
The event ended with audience questions – which was overall a lot better than what you can expect. With the event in hindsight I am very happy that I went and I will certainly attend again. Anders told a very compelling story and if you want further reading or listening you should read his book and listen to his summer talk on P1. You will find information about Studentafton at their website www.studentafton.se or on their Facebook page.
I hope you found this interesting and you should know that this was nothing but a small fraction of an amazing talk by Anders Kompass.
Happy hunting and best regards Fritjof