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Looking for nuggets

The IGF has always faced the criticism of being little more than a “talking shop”. To some extent this is true, but a little like panhandling you need to sift out golden nuggets of wisdom from the stream of thoughts. It can be tiring, time-consuming work but when you find see the glimmer, it somehow makes the rest of it worthwhile.

Usually it falls to IGF chairman Nitin Desai – a wise, old UN hand from India – to lift the occasion. But this time I think the honour fell to Henrikas Juškevicius – a man who immediately pointed out when he opened the “Taking Stock” session that “there are five spellings of my name, and three other spellings so there’s no full database on the Internet but if you want you can call me Henrikas Jush.”

The chairman role at the main sessions is a slightly daft but brilliant compromise drawn up by IGF top-man Markus Kummer. Someone – usually a government rep from the host country – at all times sits on stage and officially “chairs” the meeting. This comprises of a few minutes of opening remarks, and a few minutes of closing remarks and otherwise the only qualification is the ability to sit still without looking bored.

Well, Mr Jush, who, it turns out, is adviser to the Director General of UNESCO on Communication and Information, and Vice President of Eurasian Academy of Television and Radio, was a welcome surprise.

As the session wound up, he began his closing comments by saying he had listened carefully to all the interventions from the floor – which is what everyone says but he appeared to actually mean it. He then proceeded to give the best speech of the conference.

Here’s an excerpt (read with a relatively thick Russian-like accent for the full effect): “Living with part of my life under totalitarian regimes I lacked dissident voices. Everybody was so positive. Everybody was so unanimous. There was very little critics. Only then we talk about youth there were some, you know.

“But I must tell you, on 15th of September, I wanted to participate in Room 7, ‘Legal aspects of Internet Governance, international cooperation and cybersecurity’. But when I came, the hall was full, and people were taking chairs from the Room 6, so I decided to stay in the Room 6 and in the Room 6 was only young people so I decided to sit in the Room 6 and maybe on computer to listen what’s on 7.

“So two young ladies came to me, and told, you know, we now have the young organisations of youth and there will be random choice of speakers. You will be the first choice. What is your name?”

There followed an insightful rundown of the impact of the Internet in the broader sense. How power is emigrating outside the institutions which have existed for centuries. “You know, I don’t have anything against Governments, but they have vertical structures. And vertical structures today are becoming already a bit old fashioned.”

He then outlined the useful role of the United Nations in creating the IGF but that, in his personal opinion, it was probably not the best manager of the annual forum. As so on, in this vein, telling some wise home truths without ideology.

Making sense

It’s a strange thing we someone starts making broader, public sense and pulls things together coherently. Suddenly, the chaos and the worthless, the pontificating and ego-mania shrinks into the background and your brain start recalling all the little gems you’ve heard that week. Thoughts about how legislation needs to change to fit in with a new era; about how we are both in a new world but still reflecting the old world; how we can continue to make progress without having to force revolutions on people; how the world is gradually being pulled together by meetings like the IGF, and what has changed since the whole thing started five years ago.

And with that, with the dross and the ego-insights forgotten, you feel that having travelled halfway across the world to sit in an exhibition hall listening to hours of people talking with only occasional focus was suddenly worth it. And that the IGF, for its all many faults, is the testbed for something much, much bigger.

This was a big five years. Here’s hoping for five more. ®

This article originally appeared on kierenmccarthy.com.

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