I say it mockingly, but you may mis-interpret it as Nithin’s growing Icy League snobiness, when I said things like the following.

“Oh, I’m just seeing three heads of state at the World Leaders forum this week.”

Now, reality. I have no respect for most heads of state, and two of the three fit squarely into this category. They should have the honor of being thrown into a bullpit, for all I care. Power doesn’t grant you any authority, in my mind, unless it’s been given to you by the people fairly and if you know how to use it justly.

The first up was Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia. I’m working on an article about this visit, which was marred by protests, for some of the campus publications. Be on the lookout for that.

Second was President Jose Ramos Horta of East Timor, the newest country in Asia. East Timor’s story is sad – stuck in civil war against a dictatorial Indonesian regime for over two decades, almost 20% of the population was killed and nearly all it’s infrastructure destroyed. When Mr. Ramos-Horta took over over after independence, he resided over a country that had nothing except a people terrified by recent history.

Independence, according to the President, came due to planned (resistance) and unplanned (the fall of Suharto) events. The country was totally destroyed, and the UN wanted to setup a Democracy in two-three years.

He mentioned how a Chinese restaurant in New York City can barely get setup in 2-3 years. An entire Democracy?

Yet, East Timor, eight years later, is surviving as a Democracy. Oil has been the livesaver, though the country hopes to develop itself sustainable. Crime is low, educations is growing, and the people are finally emerging from their decades long malaise and seeing hope in their future.

One question I had though – how much of this is due to the leadership in the country, and how much due to oil wealth? But wealth doesn’t necessarily equal freedom (case in point – Saudi Arabia)

President Abdullah Gu of Turkey was unique for me. Of the three, Turkey was the only country that I’ve been to, and the only country where, to this day, I have friends.

In fact, I used this speech as a chance to talk to my two friends there, Inanc and Gurbet. I wish I’d spoken to them before, as Inanc especially had nothing but virtiol for the current regime, which he said is suppressing freedom and leading Turkey away from a republic towards a dictatorship, and away from the values of the founder, Ataturk.

Mr. Gu gave a speech in which he framed Turkey as the liberal Democratic bridge between Europe and Asia, a center of freedom for a huge region. He spoke ambitously of Turkey’s potential for good in it’s regions, and how its developing into one of the premier Democracy’s in the world, a model for other developing countries.

But in doing this, he made some of the same arguments that a true dictator, Prime Minister Zenawi, made earlier. He compared his regimes shortfallings to that of a worse time, when Turkey was under military rule. He brushed off Turkey’s treatment of it’s Kurish minorities but blasted Israel for it’s treatment of Palestinians. And he spoke in length, dodging questions left and right.

I’m happy that Columbia gives me these opportunities. But remember, if I’m showing off, look into my eyes. You’ll find my cheekiness.

Keep up with Nithin's work

Sign up for my mailing list today to get monthly updates on my most recent articles, projects, and upcoming travels. I'll also share my top stories on undercovered global issues.

You're in! Check your email to confirm.