Home / News / World /  Five crazy moments in the United Nations you didn’t know about

New Delhi:It’s that time of the year when world leaders, except North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, make their way to New York to address the plenary session of the United Nations General Assembly, also known as the UNGA General Debates. Over the years, the UNGA platform has been witness to many antics, from exhausting, unending speeches to conspiracy theories. This year should be no different.

Here’s a list of the craziest moments that have come to typify the General Assembly.

V.K. Krishna Menon:

The curious case of a diplomat droning on and on and on. Former Indian envoy to the United Nations till 1962 (later, defence minister), V.K. Krishna Menon spoke for nearly eight long hours (7 hours and 48 minutes to be precise) defending India’s position on Kashmir in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in 1957.

During his marathon address to the UNSC, Menon said (excerpted), “Why is that we have never heard voices in connection with the freedom of people under the suppression and tyranny of Pakistani authorities on the other side of the ceasefire line? Why is it that we have not heard here that in ten years these people have not seen a ballot paper? With what voice can either the Security Council or anyone coming before it demand a plebiscite for a people on our side who exercise franchise, who have freedom of speech, who function under a hundred local bodies?"

Menon reportedly had to be hospitalized after collapsing from exhaustion towards the end of his speech. He returned to continue for another hour, with a doctor constantly monitoring his blood pressure.

Hugo Chavez:

The late Venezuelan revolutionary leader was among those who added plenty of colour to the UNGA, especially in the last decade. In 2006, he addressed the plenary, exactly a day after then US president George Bush. He began by reading an excerpt from Noam Chomsky’s Hegemony or Survival, and recommending the book to those present. But soon after, he launched into Bush amid much laughter and applause, “The devil came here yesterday. Yesterday, the devil was here in this very place. This rostrum still smells like sulfur. Yesterday, ladies and gentlemen, from this podium, the President of the United States, whom I referred to as the Devil, came here talking as if he owned the world. It would take a psychiatrist to analyze the speech he delivered yesterday..."

Chavez added, “As the spokesperson of imperialism, he came to give us recipes for maintaining the current scheme of domination, exploitation and pillage over the peoples of the world. His speech perfectly fit an Alfred Hitchcock movie and I could even dare suggest a title, “The Devil’s Recipe..."

Three years later, during his speech, Chavez recalled his famous 2006 speech by saying, “the UN no longer smells like sulfur" after Barack Obama was elected president. During that speech in 2009, Chavez began singing a song, even playing an imaginary guitar along the way.

Muammar Qaddafi

The late Libyan president, Muammar Qaddafi, was known for his antics. The eccentric leader made his first appearance at the UN in 2009, despite being in power since 1969 and quite literally, made the most of the opportunity. In what was described by The New York Times as a “rambling diatribe", Qaddafi called the UN Security Council, the “Terror Council".

He said during his address, “At present, the Security Council is security feudalism, political feudalism for those with permanent seats, protected by them and used against us. It should be called, not the Security Council, but the Terror Council. In our political life, if they need to use the Security Council against us, they turn to the Security Council. If they have no need to use it against us, they ignore the Security Council. If they have an interest to promote, an axe to grind, they respect and glorify the Charter of the United Nations; they turn to Chapter VII of the Charter and use it against poor nations. If, however, they wished to violate the Charter, they would ignore it as if it did not exist at all."

But as the NYT article notes, “Colonel Qaddafi also attracted attention far from the General Assembly Hall. His official home in New York was the mission on East 48th Street; Libyan diplomats briefly seemed to find a place for his controversial reception tent on a Westchester estate owned by Donald Trump in Bedford, N.Y., but he apparently had no plans to go there. At the mission, he welcomed Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam, while some supporters outside sang his praises."

Nikita Khrushchev

Not quite a speech, but a forceful intervention nonetheless. In one of the Cold War’s most iconic moments, Soviet Union president Nikita Khrushchev in 1960, reportedly removed his right shoe and began banging it on the table. The shoe-banging incident was in protest of a speech by Philippine delegate Lorenzo Sumulong who, in his speech said, “the peoples of Eastern Europe and elsewhere which have been deprived of the free exercise to their civil and political rights and which have been swallowed up, so to speak by the Soviet Union."

Sumulong’s statement prompted an aggressive response from Khrushchev, as he denounced Sumulong, calling him “a jerk, a stooge, a lackey and a toady of American imperialism." Khrushchev’s antics will go down in the annals of UNGA as it one of its most memorable moments. He (rather his translator) is also credited with coining the term, “We will bury you" in 1956, when Khrushchev was addressing Western ambassadors at the Polish embassy in Moscow.

Fidel Castro

The 1960 General Debate witnessed another marathon, this time from Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, who spoke non-stop for over four hours. Addressed on 26 September 1960, Castro’s speech was largely an attack on the US’ policy towards Cuba, with the relations between the two countries already deteriorating at the time.

However, it was away from the UN Assembly that Castro’s trip to New York made his mark. Castro and his entourage first “checked in to the Shelburne Hotel at Lexington Avenue and 37th street, but moved to the Hotel Theresa when the Shelburne demanded $10,000 for alleged damage that included cooking chickens in their rooms. The Theresa was the beneficiary of the worldwide publicity when Nikita Khrushchev, the premier of the Soviet Union; Jawaharlal Nehru, the prime minister of India, Malcolm X (from the Nation of Islam) visited Castro there. Castro’s entourage rented eighty rooms for a total of $800 per day," notes website

Subscribe to Mint Newsletters
* Enter a valid email
* Thank you for subscribing to our newsletter.
Recommended For You
Edit Profile
Get alerts on WhatsApp
Set Preferences My ReadsFeedbackRedeem a Gift CardLogout