Interview with H.E. Mrs. Simona-Mirela Miculescu
Representative of the UN Secretary-General
Head of UN Office Belgrade
You were the Director of the Department for Communication and Public Diplomacy within the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs at a certain point in your career. Since you departed, what big changes has digitalization brought to the Romanian MFA?
I was several times involved in the Public Communication structures of the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs during my diplomatic career spanning more than 24 years, between other assignments. Actually, I was the one who created and consolidated the specific institutional mechanisms when I served, in 1993-1994, as the first-ever female Spokesperson of the ministry and Director of its Press Department. Public Communication and Diplomacy, International Public Relations have eventually become my passion and I developed a very rich and diverse expertise in this field, including from an academic perspective.
I am glad to see that, over the years, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been having an ever more active online presence - from the website to the profiles on the main social media platforms - Facebook or Twitter. It is interesting to see also how the Romanian diplomatic missions abroad, as well as diplomats (senior or not) go – in terms of their own creativity – beyond the formal patterns. You cannot serve your country well these days if you’re not also a real “digital diplomat”. We are centuries away from the reported reaction of Lord Palmerston, British Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, on receiving the first telegraph message in the 1850s, when he exclaimed: “My God, this is the end of diplomacy!”. Diplomacy has not only survived the telegraph, as well as all subsequent technological innovations, such as the radio, telephone, television, faxes or internet, but the challenge has always been how to fully and smartly use all this for promoting the interests of your own country. That is because countries - but also international organizations – need to constantly develop new sets of skills, organizational changes, and innovative ways of approaching national and global policies.
What brought you to the UN?
I was always a great admirer of the UN, of its principles, values, and endeavors that changed so much the world for the better, including in my country, even during the harshest times of dictatorship! I was always fascinated by the thousands of unsung heroes – UN staff working in the most difficult conditions – and whose stories are true life lessons! When I served as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Permanent Representative of Romania to the UN, I was closer than ever to its realities and facets, understanding much better the magnitude of its work, as well as its huge impact on our lives. I thought it would be a cool challenge to compete for entering the UN system to be able to be a part of such a powerful force of good, and the rest is history.
Is there a particular memory from the time you were a Permanent Representative of Romania to the United Nations?
Oh, there are so many particular memories from that amazing time of my life – seven years in the most complex and demanding ambassadorial position, as the world center of diplomacy is exactly there, at the UN! I could (and maybe I will) write an entire book! I voted, in the UN General Assembly, on behalf of my country, hundreds of resolutions that changed something in the world for the better! I promoted many Romanian candidatures – either national or individual - for diverse positions within the UN universe, and most of the times we were successful! I made hundreds of statements - on behalf of my country and nation – either in the UN General Assembly or in the Security Council, and even now I have goosebumps when I remember the pride of raising the nametag of my country requesting the floor! You can imagine that there were many memorable moments while I held different international positions – such as Vice-President of the UNICEF Executive Board, Vice-President of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Vice-President of the Bureau of the Francophonie, Chair of the Special Political and Decolonization Committee of the General Assembly during its 66th Session, Chair of the 53rd Session of the UN Commission for Social Development, and especially when I served as Vice-President of the UN General Assembly for its 68th Session, and sometimes I was the President ad-interim of this prestigious forum. But the most important thing is that I was lucky and honored to meet many interesting people (including my fellow ambassadors), as well as famous figures of the world elite – heads of states and governments, ministers of foreign affairs, celebrities, so I cherish very much the encounters, besides the experiences that I was lucky and honored to collect.
“I was always a great admirer of the UN, of its principles, values, and endeavors that changed so much the world for the better, including in my country, even during the harshest times of dictatorship!”
Mrs. Miculescu, what has uniquely shaped your approach as a diplomat?
I think that my approach as a diplomat always consisted of trying to find the perfect balance between heart and reason, between passion and compassion, between being a lifelong learner and a hard worker. One thing is clear: I’ve been an eternal adept of the concept of “excellence” in everything I did – professionally, personally, artistically. Hence my motto was always: “Never let anything stop you from reaching excellence, not even success”. And it is the same now, when I serve as an international civil servant.
Is there one person during your career with whom you’d spend your leisure time?
It is really difficult to choose one person, as I met so many extraordinary people during my career, and I had the chance to have some amazing mentors who happened to be some of my bosses! The one I would spend my leisure time though would be Mihai Botez, a prominent academic, an eminent futurologist, a brave former dissident during the dictatorship, who was the Ambassador of Romania to the US when I served as the Press Secretary of the Romanian Embassy. He was such a brilliant mind, such a fascinating storyteller, such a charismatic presence, such a kind heart, such a visionary! For example, as we talk about web diplomacy, due to him and to the fact that he saw and understood certain trends much earlier than anybody else, I received the blessing and support to create the official site of the embassy in 1995. Creating its site – the first ever official site of a Romanian governmental institution - the Embassy of Romania to the US was a trendsetter right at the beginning of the Internet Era!”!
“One thing is clear: I’ve been an eternal adept of the concept of “excellence” in everything I did – professionally, personally, artistically.”
Could you tell us a bit more about your daily life as the Representative of the Secretary-General and the Head of the United Nations Office in Belgrade?
Before or after? You know, in Romania we always reply like this when we are asked about our life. The answer is always divided – before or after (the 1989 Romanian Revolution). Now we are in the same situation. Our life was so different before the COVID-19 pandemic! At that time my days were starting with staff meetings in the morning, then filled with meetings with different people from political, diplomatic, and academic circles, while the evenings were full of diplomatic events, receptions and dinners. This very special year that marks the 75th anniversary of the UN started very well, with many celebratory plans, and the pace was beautifully intense. But then everything changed. We were immersed in a totally virtual universe that absorbed us completely! Nowadays, I spend all day and evening on the laptop, many times overwhelmed with tons of emails and online meetings.
“Creating its site – the first ever official site of a Romanian governmental institution - the Embassy of Romania to the US was a trendsetter right at the beginning of the Internet Era!”
If you were given the power, are there any elements of the UN system that you would seek to change today?
Of course, there is always something to change in a huge system such as the UN, that has been trying for 75 years to adapt to the rapidly and profoundly changing times! In figuring out how to respond to your question, I would start with the premise that all multilateral institutions are now needed more than ever and must be tuned to the challenges of the 21st century. So, if I were to choose one top and fundamental priority, I would intensify much more the efforts of the system to build both a networked multilateralism, with the United Nations and all international organizations working together, and an inclusive multilateralism able to listen and incorporate the contributions of business, civil society, local and regional authorities, women and young people.
UNRocks and Ambassadors have joined together to cover the song Michael Jackson's "Heal the World" as a tribute to all the doctors, nurses, healthcare workers who are working relentlessly to save the world from the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, you were a part of that project, can you tell us more about that?
I was not only a part of this music project: I was the initiator, organizer and producer of it. I found an extraordinary music director and two excellent video editors, and we managed to achieve it nicely. I wanted it to be a big “thank you” to the frontline workers, and a message of solidarity with the WHO, that 26 former and current ambassadors to the UN - who were kind enough to enthusiastically express their will to join me – eventually sent to the world. I could not find a better and more meaningful song than “Heal the World”, and we were very happy to see its impact.
This is not the only music project that I initiated and achieved: in 2013, during my ambassadorial term in New York, I managed to gather 5 singing ambassadors to the UN representing 5 continents, with whom I recorded a first-ever music CD entitled “Ambassadors Sing for Peace”, produced by the Friendship Ambassadors Foundation, and in 2014 I founded the first-ever music group composed of ambassadors to the UN called “UNRocks” with whom I recorded and released the single “Strong UN, Better World”, having the same producer. I’ve done all this out of a passion for music and cultural diplomacy, and because I always thought that Hans-Christian Andersen was right when he said: “When words fail, music speaks”.
Is there any particular advice you would give to your colleagues and diplomats regarding their positions?
I would encourage my colleagues – be it diplomats or international civil servants - to always stay true to themselves, to dare to think outside the box, to accept risks (even calculated ones), and to never forget that, in today’s world of digital and virtual relationships, there is still no alternative to old-fashioned human interactions…
What role does the modern technology play in these challenging times caused by Covid-19?
COVID-19 has clearly demonstrated the importance of digital readiness, which allows business and life to continue as usual – as much as possible – during pandemics. Building the necessary infrastructure to support a digitized world and stay current in the latest technology will be essential for any business or country to remain competitive in a post-COVID-19 world, as well as take a human-centered and inclusive approach to technology governance.
I sincerely believe that the UN-led international cooperation on digital technology is crucial to help defeat COVID-19.
As Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, said recently "Information technology can be a beacon of hope, allowing billions of people around the world to connect…New technologies, from 5G and big data to cloud computing and artificial intelligence, are powerful tools to tackle the world's most pressing challenges, including the pandemic," adding that "leaving no one behind means leaving no one offline."