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Spiegel Online- November 4, 2018

World Citizens Movement: The man who unites humanity

Something incredible was achieved 70 years ago, despite the Cold War: the UN adopted the most important text in human history. Maybe because of the antics of a Broadway actor.


A column by Christian Stöcker


"World Citizen No. 1" Garry Davis

 The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images

"When people learned through radio that their heads had yielded to the animals and solemnly signed the Eternal Peace Treaty, such rejoicing erupted on Earth that the

Earth's axis bent by half a centimeter."

Erich Kästner, "The Conference of Animals" (1949)


The most important text in human history is almost 1300 words long and fits on three DIN A4 pages. It shows that 70 years ago we were already further away than today. If only for a moment.

On December 10, 1948, against all odds, the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights " was passed - without being legally binding.


The authors were a Canadian, a Lebanese, two French and one Chinese, led by an American, Eleanor Roosevelt. Ideas, including: Thomas Paine ("The world is my country and doing good my religion"), George Mason, French revolutionaries, Immanuel Kant , Socrates , Epicurean and the Chinese philosopher Mi To or Micius. He suggested 500 years before Christ that "you could look at other states like your own", "other families like your own and others like yourself".

Because of "Western values".



The most unlikely obstetrician of the unlikely text, however, was the Broadway actor Garry Davis. In May 1948, Davis, under the impact of his experiences as a US bomber pilot in World War II , had given up his US passport and declared himself "World Citizen No. 1".

While the UN General Assembly met in Paris, he lodged himself on the conference grounds, kindly provided by passers-by and local residents. Davis was supported by intellectuals, anarchists, trade unionists, artists and activists, including André Breton and Albert Camus .


On 18 November 1948, Davis and several of his comrades gained access to the conference hall. During a speech by the Yugoslav delegate, Davis started from the gallery loudly to make a statement: "Delegates, I hereby interrupt you in the name of the world people, which is not represented here ..." He did not get any further. He was packed and taken away.

"The sovereign states that you represent"


While Davis was imprisoned - a stateless prisoner on the official state-owned UN site - his companions in the courtroom left the multilingual statement. They demanded a "world government" because "the sovereign states that you represent separate us and lead us to the abyss of the all-encompassing war."


Shortly thereafter, statements of solidarity for the world citizenship movement arrived, including Albert Einstein and Albert Schweitzer . The idea of ​​a common human destiny was in the world.

While the UN was struggling for human rights in the following weeks, split by the approaching Cold War , the Parisians took to the streets. Also in other European cities, such as Brussels and London, there were associations with thousands of members supporting Davis and the World Citizenship Declaration.




When Davis spoke to Pleyel on December 3, back in freedom, at the Paris Salle, 3000 arrived. On December 9, 12,000 or even 20,000 Davis fans gathered at the Paris Vélodrôme d'Hiver, depending on the source. In front of the building of the UN General Assembly was demonstrated. All this "put so much pressure on the delegates that they could not help but say yes to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December," a leaflet (PDF, 5.4 MB) , which the Giordano-Bruno Foundation has launched its 70th anniversary. Even if Davis wanted much more than the United Nations.

48 states agreed, eight abstained. Six of them no longer exist, states of the former Eastern Bloc. The seventh was the South African apartheid state. The eighth country, which did not join because of the passage to religious freedom, was Saudi Arabia - from today's point of view very enlightening.

Who manages to stick to these 30 rules today?


In fact, not only Saudi Arabia is constantly violating the statement. Against the prohibition of " torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment", the equal rights of men and women, freedom of expression and religion, the prohibition of discrimination.

Guantanamo , drone murders, mass surveillance - even the Obama- era USA did not manage to uphold human rights. Things got worse under Donald Trump .

And the right to "equal pay for equal work" is known to have been implemented almost nowhere in the world, keyword "gender pay gap". Human Rights Watch cataloged human rights violations in more than 90 countries in 2017 .



It pays off to take the Universal Declaration of Human Rights once in a while. It shows vividly that humanity in its self-knowledge has already gone further than today. Now there are again men in power, who not only secretly, but explicitly want to go behind these freedoms and rights for all: from Orbán to Bolsonaro , from Erdogan to Duterte , from Putin to Trump .

Therefore, Garry Davis' ideal of the world citizen is more important than ever: if we do not understand that we are a humanity, we will fail in the global challenges of a globalized world - exponential technological development , climate change , nuclear war and so on.

President Davis?


In Erich Kästner's novel for children and connoisseurs, quoted above, the idea of ​​a peaceful, borderless world became a literary classic right after Davis's campaign in Paris. Whether Kästner Davis ever met, I do not know, he must have known about him - only the SPIEGEL reported in 1948 and 1949 various times on the "world citizen No. 1". In a survey in 1949 seven SPIEGEL readers spoke in favor of the stateless Davis as German President . A documentary about him will soon be released.


Until his death in 2013, Davis's organization spent over 500,000 symbolic "world citizen" passes - one of the last to Edward Snowden . We should not forget him.

Der Spiegel April 2 1949.jpg
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