The United Nations never ceases to impress. As noted here recently, Thor Halvorssen of the Human Rights Foundation appeared before the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva on June 28. Halvorssen offered a few frank, bracing words about the state of human rights in Venezuela under Hugo Chavez, and expressly argued that Chavez’s government, which is seeking a seat on the council, has no right to such a seat. For good measure, Halvorssen pointed out how disgraceful it is that another tyrannical Latin American government, that of Cuba, currently sits on the council.
The result, as also noted here, was an explosion of righteous indignation on the part of some of the council’s least worthy members – China, Russia, and, especially, Cuba, whose representative was so quick to rise to his feet in outrage that he knocked his chair over. The message sent out by him, and by his Chinese and Russian friends, in response to Halvorssen’s dose of truth-telling was clear: it’s one thing to engage in vague, pretty talk about human rights, but it’s another thing to point fingers and name names.
Two days later, interestingly enough, the very same message was communicated to a group of teenage girls from Norway at the U.N. Headquarters in New York – or, at least, so it would appear from the available evidence. Here’s the story. The Norwegian Girls’ Choir was in New York as part of a music festival produced by something called the Friendship Ambassadors Foundation, which, according to an article that appeared in the New York Times on June 30, “has promoted cultural exchanges between American and international arts groups since its founding in 1973. This year the group, which often focuses on youth initiatives, has produced the inaugural Rhythms of One World festival, a series of choral performances featuring adult and children’s choirs from Trinidad and Tobago, South Africa, Luxembourg, Canada, Australia, Norway and the United States.”
As the Times reported, “The choirs performed individually at various halls in the city this week, and joined forces for an event on Thursday evening at Avery Fisher Hall, which celebrated the signing of the United Nations Charter in 1945.” The Times described each act in some detail, and singled out the girls’ choir as a “highlight of the evening,” saying that they “sang with nuance and elegant dynamic contrast.” The Times article closed by noting that the festival would conclude that evening, Saturday, June 30, “with a performance at the United Nations General Assembly Hall.”
So it was that on Saturday afternoon, the girls’ choir was rehearsing lighting cues in the General Assembly hall. That’s when the trouble started. The girls were doing a piece by composer Maya Ratkje entitled “Ro-Uro,” which can be translated as “Peace-Unrest.” It’s an archetypal Norwegian statement about the beauty of peace and the evil of war. (You can see a video of a 2007 performance of it here.) The work, which lasts just under ten minutes, alternates throughout between harmony and discord; the girls are almost constantly on the move, one moment dancing happily arm-in-arm and making pretty music, the next moment dashing madly across the stage – and around the auditorium – as if in sheer terror, all the while shrieking out harsh dissonances.
It’s exactly the kind of thing you’d think was tailor-made for the U.N. But there’s one problem. Toward the end of the piece, the girls shout out the names of famous people who have abused their power, such as Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Quisling, Castro, and Mugabe.
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