|Sleepless in Geneva: A Tale
of Two Posts
It should have been simple and straightforward. Mr. Michael Gorbachev,
former General Secretary of the parastroika Soviet Union and his
Foreign Minister Edouard Schevernadze wanted to assist one of
their capable young former assistants. They approached their former
Deputy Foreign Minister, currently Director General of the UN
European Headquarters in Geneva, Vladmir Petrovsky to help. He
really tried. But somehow matters became more complicated, as
is usually the case with some posts in Geneva.
Whenever an important post opens in Geneva, not only European
governments, but most senior staff at United Nations are interested.
Geneva in particular is a tempting operation. It is a dream appointment
because the pay is higher than almost anywhere else. A director's
post in Geneva for many of its occupants is even more tempting
than an assistant secretary general's post elsewhere. The quality
of life, the demands of work and the general atmosphere is much
more conducive. So when the post of director of conference services
has opened recently there were many interested applicants. Geneva
after all is mainly a servicing office where many meetings and
conferences are held. If you control that side of work you mainly
are the most sought after person at the Palais des Nations, after
the Director General . The modus operendi there is not only to
write requesting a conference room for a meeting. One has to get
to know the officer in charge, politely first call for a lunch
or possibly a coffee at conference room six on the third floor,
which in fact is a pleasant coffee lounge. It is then, after accomplishing
a proper personal relation when you would mention the question
of the meeting and send the eventual letter. A fairly civilized
By July there were three frontrunners. One was someone who had
served in the same office for many years before moving to Vienna
where she had to handle the same tasks in the conference area.
Liselotte Waldheim has long seniority D1 and has for a while been
expecting a higher level D2 post. Supporting her of course, was
her own government and many friends of hers from the days of New
York, Geneva and Vienna. She also had her adversities from the
same locations. Another determined candidate was Mehmet Ulkumen,
Turkish Chief of Protocol, whose active pursuit of a D2 reached
intensive lobbying proportions and involved every secretary Gen.
Since Javier Perez de Cuellar to Kofi Annan.
As Chief of Protocol, Ulkumen had access to influential visitors
and paid a special effort to gain friends and influence people
not only in Geneva, but also in New York, when decisions are often
taken. Similarly, Ulkumen had his own adversities and accusers
of improper behaviors. There were investigations which he felt
would not damage his image, but some others thought placed him
in a vulnerable situation. Mr. Ulkumen's overconfidence and his
demanding job led him to tread on so many feet, which possibly
waited for the time to get even. Our other candidate was an experienced,
old hand in the conference services, who actually started as an
interperter and made her way up through the system by hard work
and little help from supportive colleagues. Thus, Ms. Covington
felt that politics apart, she was the most qualified for the job.
Normally, the director general of the Geneva UN office makes
a recommendation and at such a high level that there is a special
committee composed of under secretaries and assistant secretary
generals who would make a recommendation, to the Secretary General.
The current director general Vladimir Perovsky, a former deputy
Foreign minister of the Soviet Union, under Mr. Gorbachev and
Mr. Chavarnadze had to consider some sort of a billiard move.
Not only was Mr. Ulkemen working closely with him and providing
satisfactory services, he also had to accommodate a request by
the two other former Soviet leaders to appoint one of their assistants
to the post which would be vacated by Mr. Ulkemen. That is if
Mr.Ulkemen is promoted then the person the highly recommended
Russian or Georgian will take over as Chief of Protocol. In preparation
for the next move Mr. Petrovsky did propose Mr.Ulkemen for the
post. The senior committee, however, overturned the proposal and
reportedly recommended Ms. Covington, proving the point that the
most effective approach for post is on the subtle inside track.
Incidentally, when Secretary General Kofi Annan was lobbied on
behalf of Mr. Ulkemen he wisely indicated that the matter was
in the hands of the appropriate review group.