I never expected to share in a small way an occasion like this with George Soros. It’s ok, and I want to thank my colleagues on the ICG board for this occasion and this wonderful gift.
Like the academy awards I want to single out five people who were crucial to the creation of ICG.
I met the first, our previous speaker, Mark Malloch-Brown, in 1979 in Thailand, when at age of perhaps 15 he opened the first of the refugee camps for half a million Cambodians fleeing a nightmare. On Jan 5,1993 we visited besieged Sarajevo to help advise George Soros how to spend 50 million dollars for Bosnian relief, a contribution crucial to Sarajevo’s survival. On the return flight ICG was hatched as we discussed our dismay at what we felt was the lack of urgency of aid providers and the overall disgraceful western response to the Bosnian war. We glommed on to the thought that a new private organization might be helpful in putting pressure on governments and international organizations to respond aggressively to more Bosnias.
The second is the incomparable Fred CUNY. Our advice to Soros on his 50 million was sage: get Cuny to spend the money. Fred was one of those few people whom you think often about when they are gone, who spent as much time in Iraq or in Bosnia helping one person as a multitude. He helped frame the concepts behind ICG and its field based operating style, although he was disappointed that the organization decided not to also monitor the aid providers as originally planned. I do not like to speak for the dead but I feel Fred would be pleased with ICG. Fred’s wonderful family is here--his father, mother, son, and brother-- and I ask them to stand.
Third is former congressman Steve Solarz, one ICG’s first and continuing fervent supporters. Because of his work in many countries I asked him to go around the world and see whether there would be support from governments for such a new organization. He reported that there was indeed support and picked up some promised contributions. This gave us the confidence to go ahead. I must repeat one sentence of his discussions with the junior minister at the British Foreign Office that captures the essence of the ICG. So Mr. Solarz, the minister said, you have come to ask her majesty’s government to buy your organization a golden cane to beat us over the head to do things our government does not want to do. The UK today is ICG’s biggest country supporter.
The fourth is ICG’s first chairperson, George Mitchell. In 1995 George had just left the senate and the majority leadership and was in the process of finding a private life—something not quite possible for him--and I went over to offer him the chair of a very iffy organization with not much hope he would accept. To my great relief and undying appreciation he agreed. He gave the untested ICG an instant credibility, and with his superb skill proceeded to establish and unify an impressive board of vastly diverse international mix.
Fifth is tonight’s honoree. You will hear more let me just say George Soros marches to his own drummer and we are all the better for it. Where other foundations would not take the risk George saw merit in our new approach and jumpstarted the organization in Bosnia. His continued support combined with an extraordinary president and a truly impressive international staff has taken ICG to a level I frankly never dreamed.
I also want to use this occasion to pay tribute to my wife Sheppie, who was there from the beginning, who has herself labored long and hard in the humanitarian thickets, and who knows the difference between doing good and doing well.
A final word about ICG. It grew out of the breakdown of Yugoslavia and the genocide in Rwanda. I knew it had arrived when the Supreme allied commander in Europe, one General Clark, tracked me down in Macedonia in 1998 to complain about its publications. Its activities have spread all over the world. While the world focuses on the Middle East vast violence continues in Africa and threatens in other regions. We have to do better than peace processes that lead to more than 3 million people dead. An organization like ICG will be particularly needed for the next decade as the UN continues weak and the US is preoccupied or in retreat from more nation building. That means much more than raising money, however essential that is and we thank you all very much for tonight. It means leadership, a great staff, having something to say including the willingness to tell truth to power including your donors, and a perseverance to pursue ideas and policies in the face of the domestic political difficulties of democratic nations and the temerity of international organizations. I believe all that now exists.