A view into the World Economic Forum at Davos through 5 inspiring quotes (and one controversial)

January 15, 2019 Tradeshift Editorial Team

The World Economic Forum’s annual event in Davos, Switzerland started in 1977 and has since become a major global meeting of the minds where leaders, scholars, and even artists from all corners come together to discuss important issues.

In looking at years past in Davos, here are six quotes that shaped global trends and helps to tell the story of this annual, historic event:

1987: “Let’s give Gorbachev a chance.” — Hans-Dietrich Genscher, West German Foreign Minister

This appeal for the Soviet leader comes from the end of Hans-Dietrich Genscher’s speech, West Germany’s Foreign Minister. Hailed by the WEF as part of the beginning of the end of the Cold War, it marks one of the first truly political moments at Davos.

1988: “Such a crisis should never be repeated and both sides must concentrate their efforts for the establishment of lasting peaceful relations.” — Turgut Ozal, Prime Minister, Turkey and Andreas Papandreou, Prime Minister, Greece

Greece and Turkey sign the “Davos Declaration” at the annual forum, a no war agreement that helped resolve escalating tensions over the Aegean Crisis and usher in peace talks for the two nations.

1992: “If the voices of millions have been freed to enunciate the political aspirations of the people, those voices will also surely speak loudly, proclaiming an urgent desire for an end to poverty and for a more equitable distribution of opportunities, income and wealth within and among the nations.” — Nelson Mandela, anti-apartheid revolutionary, political leader, and philanthropist

Just two years after his liberation, Nelson Mandela appears for the first time with South African president FW de Klerk and chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi at Davos. Their meeting becomes an integral first political step away from apartheid. This appeal for an equitable global society comes from Mandela’s address at the WEF that same year.

2009: “I remember two former prime ministers in your country who said they felt very happy when they were able to enter Palestine on tanks. I find it very sad that people applaud what you said. There have been many people killed. And I think that it is very wrong and it is not humanitarian.” — Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, President of Turkey

It’s not always solutions viewed through rose-colored glasses at the WEF. In a consistently tense debate with Israel’s Shimon Peres over the Israeli offensive against Palestine, in which at least 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stormed off the stage in protest.

2017: “Countries have the right to development, but they should view their own interests in the broader context. And refrain from pursuing their own interests at the expense of others.” — Xi Jinping, President of the People’s Republic of China

Xi Jinping’s scheduled appearance at the annual Forum was shrouded in questions from the Western media. Would his speech be a political stunt for China? Would he reject the goals of globalization espoused by the World Economic Forum? Actually, none of the above: he championed global trade and changed the narrative about China’s global ambitions.

2018: “The education of young boys on the subject of women’s rights is crucial. When we talk about feminism and women’s rights, we are talking to men. We have to teach young boys how to be men,” — Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Laureate and activist

Malala Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel laureate, made a triumphant appeal for global women’s rights at Davos. In the context of women working toward global equality without the help of men, she hit on themes of teaching equality from the start of children’s education to promote equal rights for men and women.

With everything from peace accords, contentious debates, and appeals for equal rights, the WEF at Davos has held a unique role in influencing global politics and trends.


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