Speech by Mayor Jan van Zanen at the anniversary celebration of the Yi Jun Peace Museum, 20 August 2022
Good morning everyone,
Especially Mrs and Mr Lee,
Following a delay caused by the pandemic – the Yi Jun Peace Museum is now celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary.
Is there still any point in celebrating such an anniversary?
Most certainly, there is.
Because the Yi Jun Peace Museum tells an extraordinary story.
A story that has everything to do with The Hague’s role as international city of peace and justice.
The history of Korea, the Netherlands and The Hague has been brought together on Wagenstraat.
However, the museum also has another tale to tell.
That of two dedicated people, Mr and Mrs Lee, who opened a museum in this historic building in 1995.
A museum familiar to me for some time.
I visited the Yi Jun Peace Museum for the first time long before I became Mayor of The Hague.
Since then I have known you too, Mrs and Mr Lee, when you welcomed me so warmly.
That was in 2010, the year that I travelled to Korea leading a trade delegation from the Amsterdam region.
A trip I still clearly remember.
The Korean hospitality, spirit of enterprise and culture made a lasting impression on me.
But at the same time, I was (and still am) greatly troubled by the tragedy of the divided Korean nation.
Korea and the Netherlands established diplomatic relations in 1961, the year of my birth.
Relations that have remained cordial and fruitful to this day.
But 1961 was, as we all know, also the year in which the Berlin Wall was built.
A symbol of the division of Europe into East and West.
It has now been longer since the Wall fell than it ever stood.
May this thought offer hope and comfort to all those who care about the fate of the people of Korea.
To return to Yi Jun.
You will all be aware of the story of his mission and sudden death here in The Hague.
In 1907 Yi Jun and his two companions were not admitted to the Peace Conference where they had hoped to draw attention to the dire situation facing their country at the time.
Only states could be admitted to the conference and not private individuals.
The idea that the international community consists only of sovereign states has prevailed for a long time.
Today the picture is less clear cut.
In our globalized world, various private parties, like corporations and NGOs, operate alongside states and their alliances.
And can have considerable influence.
The International Criminal Court is an example close to home.
Which would never have come into being were it not for NGOs like Amnesty International that had strongly lobbied for it.
For some time now, cities too, have been active in the international arena.
Something I have experienced for myself not least in my work for the World Organization of United Cities and Local Governments, the UCLG.
In October, incidentally, I will be travelling to Korea again in this capacity for the triennial world conference of the UCLG in Daejon.
Local government officers will come together there to learn from each other.
For example, on how to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
As well as in the field of peace and justice.
That may perhaps sound unrealistic with a war currently raging in Eastern Europe, but it is not at all so.
For example, I was there once when the UCLG Peace Prize was awarded to the municipality of Kauswagan in the Philippines.
Specifically for its ‘From Arms to Farms’ project.
This was about former rebels handing over their weapons and making a fresh start in organic farming.
A wonderful example which illustrates just how local governments are well placed to resolve conflicts.
Because they are closest to the warring parties.
The Hague, as international city, warmly supports such initiatives.
Which help to create a more peaceful and safe world.
Personally, I see this also as a tribute to all the women and men, both now and in the past, who have worked for peace, freedom and justice.
People like Yi Jun, who fought for the right to self-determination of his people and his country, Korea.
Yi Jun’s name will always be associated with The Hague.
In the first place, because of the Yi Jun Peace Museum, of course, which exists because of you Mrs and Mr Lee.
But above all, because that which Yi Jun stood for is so closely connected with the history of our city of peace and justice.