C-MIMUN 2019 - From Russia with Love
by Kiril Lavrov
Day One (Two)
While visiting my hometown of Zelenograd on the northwestern edge of Moscow last April, I have decided to explore Eastern Europe's largest Model United Nations conference. The Moscow International Model United Nations (MIMUN) takes place annually since 1989 and have moved to the Moscow State University of International Relations in 1999. Since 2017 they also carry the Name of Vitaly Churkin, to honour Russia's late former ambassador to the United Nations. The conference attracts a total of 620 delegates (however, this is because places are limited and distributed through competition - the organisers claim to have received around two applications per place). Sessions take place in all six working languages of the UN with five English, four Russian-speaking committees and one committee in one of the remaining languages each. Also, the conference was one of the first, if not the first, to feature the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to the delight of all aviation nerds.
Upon finding out that the conference dates coincide with my stay in Russia, I managed to spontaneously sign up and was assigned Germany in the Security Council. Since one delegate from the United States could not attend the conference, I surprisingly was being reassigned the United Kingdom when I arrived for registration. The agenda topic was the Situation in Somalia, so I was prepared for a fun ride.
After a long and somewhat daunting opening ceremony, which I productively utilised to research my new position, we proceeded to sessions. The committees were scattered all across the university; we were seated at a long wooden conference table, which felt a little like an oversized round table and created a unique atmosphere. It is noteworthy that the Rules of Procedure at MIMUN differ a bit from what one knows from most MUNs. First of all, the dais of each committee is assisted by one "expert", whose job it is to provide comprehensive and reliable background information on the topic as well as to check the submitted draft resolutions. He can always be consulted orally through a "point to the expert" or written through a note to provide an answer to a factual or legal question. Second of all, there is no General Speaker's List. Instead of opening speeches, one or two days are dedicated to detailed position presentations of five to ten minutes with adjacent points of information.
After sessions, the organisers have prepared a Global Village for us, where the delegates could enjoy a wide variety of traditional dances and songs. A variety of mostly post-soviet countries were present during the show and with individual stands in the foyer, and Russia's multinational character was embraced during the event. My first day at the C-MIMUN actually was the second day of the conference, which starts on Sunday with a day entirely dedicated to workshops and invited speakers.
We commence the second day of sessions by continuing with opening statements. After receiving a detailed impression of each delegate’s strategy, blocks start to form. The debate quickly steers to reform of the African Union Mission in Somalia, and the federal structure of the Somali state. Particularly fierce was the delegate of Kuwait, envisioning peace in Somalia through an ingenious combination of Sharia rule and the supply of anti-tank guided missiles to Somali security forces (unfortunately we will never find out whether this approach would work since it was rejected by most delegates).
Another interesting particularity about the Moscow conference is the stark focus on amendments. After the working papers are turned in and corrected by the expert, the committee votes on one working paper to be adapted as the draft resolution. The members of the other blocks can then only influence the content of the paper through amending the resolution. Hence, a lot less time is devoted to drafting the working paper and the writing of, and voting upon, amendments is a significant part of the whole process. This unique feature of the Rules of Procedure led to some confusion with the delegates not familiar with the Russian MUN culture, but everyone was able to adapt by the third day.
Frequent visitors of the University of Mannheim canteen will be surprised with the quality of food at the host university. Meals are served at multiple levels at a compound inside the labyrinth-like university building, where the middle floor offers simple but quality student meals. The lower floor, more resembling a restaurant, is dedicated to “premium” options, and includes sushi, pizza and noodle bars.
About the University
The Moscow University of International Relations (MGIMO) is a state university in the Southwest of Moscow which is known for preparing the future diplomats of Russia. It got mentioned in the Guinness Book of Records for being the school with the most taught foreign languages (66). An intriguing curiosity: Being the most prominent institution of higher education in Russia and Eastern Europe, which focuses on international relations, it often gets visited by famous political figures. Many of those hold honorary doctorates of MGIMO. Their photographs are displayed all across the university building. Below is one of such boards with Heinrich Genscher in the third column from the left.
The delegations of the United States, United Kingdom, Russian Federation and South Africa took the initiative in leading the committee to shape progress in Somalia. A multitude of different factors and unforeseen events has led to the creation of this unplanned coalition, which came together in their embracement of careful and measured push towards structural reforms of Somali institutions. Hard work shapes our temporary lives as diplomats in Moscow with evenings, nights and mornings being spent on crafting backroom agreements, clauses and amendments.
After sessions, the delegates proceeded to a black-tie ball with classical dances followed by some jazz music. How classy is that?! After a round of tango (given my dancing skills, you cannot actually call this tango, though), I had to leave the event for a theatre play, which I planned to attend long before I signed up for the conference. However, I bet that the delegates had fun at one of the most elegant socials I have ever experienced. As typical for MIMUN and Russia, the social commenced right after sessions at 6 p.m. and ended at 9 p.m. already. The early resolution, as well as the lack of alcoholic drinks, repeatedly was attributed to the high number of participating high school students (around 20%). I suspect that the MUN culture in Russia and the co-organising parties such as the university may have played a role, too.
The fourth day was devoted to optimising and perfecting the draft resolution paper we have worked on hard the last days. We had spent a considerable amount of time to conduct further research on international law and draft amendments aiming at improving the legal standing, structure and diplomatic language of our document. It was a true honour working along with delegates with a fantastic degree of knowledge and devotion to the whole resolution-writing process. It was clear that some members of this committee wanted the simulation of the Security Council to be as close to the real proceedings as possible. We had to discuss a total of 30 amendments: which to include in the draft resolution - and which to reject (sorry, Equatorial Guinea and Indonesia).
A longer pause was granted for committee and conference photos. The Russian youth loves Instagram, so for some, this might have been the most important hour of the whole event. Circulating cut-outs of Ban-Ki Moon and Antonio Guterres were particularly popular with the delegates.
For the final of the day, excursion to many interesting spots around Moscow, which might not be on the map of a typical tourist, have been offered. I went on to miss those because of another theatre play. You cannot go to Moscow and not enjoy the unique performing art scene, in my opinion. I also have noticed to what extent living in Germany distorts your perception of taxi prices: while fellow delegates from St. Petersburg were complaining about Moscow’s expensiveness, I felt excited to hitch a one-hour cab ride for less than ten dollars. Everything is relative!
After correcting remaining linguistic errors, our draft resolution was put to the vote - and to the mercy of China's veto power. To everyone's relief, the resolution passes, and the session can be adjourned until next year.
The delegate of the Russian Federation has rightfully earned the award of the Best Delegate for his dedication to precision and attention to details ("The delegate of the Russian Federation writes his resolution as if he performs brain surgery" - Gossip Box), while the delegate of the United States and my humble self were honoured with honourable mentions. Now everyone was free to move to the infamous all-you-can-drink closing social. In this case, I will spare you the details.
I missed quality socials but was impressed with the quality of debate and the fun we had in committee despite all the professionalism. The Russian (or Moscow?) way of doing MUN is intriguing and brings some advantages with it but appears relatively inefficient to me. I believe that we can all learn from the amazing organisation of the Moscow International Model United Nations, while they surely can learn from the experience of the chairs and delegates who come from abroad. In effect, the Russian MUN community remains secluded from the rest of the world with delegates rarely travelling abroad for conferences. Particularly in politically difficult times, I believe that MUN is a valuable personal experience for every individual seeking to expand his horizon.
I am incredibly glad having met this bunch of fascinating individuals and am impressed by how much I was able to learn personally from these people. This conference was different - and truly special. I look forward to returning to Moscow in April 2020, hopefully, accompanied by a delegation from Mannheim.
And now a (more or less) fine selection of memes…