We have returned from Budapest successful, in a number of ways. For the first time in its three year history, an American delegation claimed Best Delegation at Yale Model Government Europe, unseating the successful run of The Harrow School of London.
While I could not be more proud of our team, bigger lessons should be drawn from our experiences across the pond.
On Thursday morning, hours before the start of committee sessions, our team had a chance to visit the Terror Háza (House of Terror) on Andrassy Avenue. Historically, 60 Andrassy Avenue (or Andrássy út 60 in the native Hungarian) played an important, if not tragic, role in Hungarian History.
First as the headquarters of the Nazi-affiliated Arrow Cross party and later as the headquarters of the communist ÁVH (similar to the Soviet KGB), unspeakable yet well documented horrors were planned and executed there. In 2002, the building re-opened as a museum and monument to the victims of the regimes.
The House of Terror serves as a permanent reminder of one of the gruesome periods of Hungarian and European history. Visitors walk through a series of exhibits showcasing Nazi, Arrow Cross, and Communist memorabilia, dedications to their victims, and finally through the basement of the House, where torture and prison cells have been reconstituted.
A chilling reminder of the past, people still too often ignore its lessons.
During YMGE, the theme of the conference revolved around a potential energy shortage in Europe. Twelve interconnected committees simulated the response of the European Union. Delegates played the role of a national minister and rotated from national cabinets to EU-level ministry meetings (where all of the Energy Ministers, for example, would meet and determine energy policy).
I applauded Yale’s effort to keep the simulation as realistic as possible but lost faith around Friday evening.
In response to a winter storm, food shortages, and a dwindling energy supply, delegates and committees repeated the tragic lessons of the past.
The next two sessions included measures to limit food for immigrants, quarantining the sick, separating families of immigrants, and enforcing strict detention rules for society in general.
How quickly, after witnessing memorials to past tragedies, we forget the real lesson of history. It is not in the best of times that humanity shines, but in the worst. The Hungarian experience in the middle of the 20th century shows with a brilliant light how quickly society can descend into hell.
The goal of Model UN and Model Government simulations should be designed to explore new ways to persevere through disaster and crisis. We have all been in committees where terrible directives are passed, often with smiles and laughter. This diminishes the value of Model UN and makes what we do the butt of jokes.
As a challenge in your next crisis committee, do not give into the “easy” solutions of hate and anger. If those who prize advancement, security, compromise, and peace do not learn how to win now, we shall surely lose in the future.