An oasis in a huge desert
In today’s world, where everybody is angry, where the public everywhere does not trust governments and the media, where countries are at odds with each other, we all need neutral and oxygen-rich oases.
I’ve found my oasis: the Ski Club of International Journalists (SCIJ). I get to live in that oasis for a week every year, and I find myself extremely lucky to find such an unbiased platform. Hundreds of journalists from more than 30 countries meet up at a ski resort, ski together, race and exchange views not only on the slopes but also during panels organized by the host country’s journalists.
The main subjects of the panels are the main issues that set the agenda during that year.
For instance, two years ago in our Spain meeting, the topic was the Charlie Hebdo attack; last year in Italy the topic was migrants. This year, in Val Cenis, France, we were informed about the coming Paris Olympics and Brexit.
For some, skiing is just an excuse, what matters is the interaction among journalists.
Although skiing is an excuse for it all, it is also the backbone of the organization. As such, there are no politics at the SCIJ; it is about sports, exchanging ideas and making friends. Politics may be the thing that is most talked about during the week, but tensions between the countries are not reflected here. When politicians do not interfere, people get along. It is exactly like that in SCİJ.
There are no ideologies, no political conflicts, no fights at all. Imagine it as the United Colors of Journalists. We all represent our countries with its sins and good deeds.
The Anglo-Swiss Parliamentary Ski Meeting may be considered the inspiration for SCIJ. Parliamentarians from England and Switzerland would annually meet to ski together and have a race at the end of the week. All professional discussions were confined strictly to lunch time.
The idea for the SCIJ was born during a world conference at the Palais des Nations. Harry Stone writes about it in his book “Ski Joy”: “After the conference was over, Gilles de la Rocque felt it a terrible pity that all friendships forged by the journalists during the interminable waits between interviews and press calls should just evaporate. Why not have journalists from all over the world meet for a week to exchange ideas and aspirations in the edifying atmosphere of the ski fields?”
Although those years were the toughest of the Cold War, the club grew rapidly. After Yugoslavia had sent a team, Russia wished to be included too.
Every so often, a skier would wish to seek asylum and Gilles had to persuade them to abandon such dreams. One such defection and all Eastern European journalists would have been withdrawn and the whole concept would have collapsed, according to Stone.
One of the most important missions of the SCIJ was to open a channel of dialogue and exchange views among journalists who were resentful of the dark shadow of repression cast over Eastern Europe by Stalin.
At times, SCIJ meetings were considered to be so important that round-table conferences were attended by the host country’s prime minister.
“The first meeting to be held behind the iron curtain almost ended in disaster,” writes Stone. Apparently, the aircraft carrying the West’s contingents had to circle Warsaw airport for three quarters of an hour before landing permission was granted to these unorthodox visitors.
During Cold War, spies disguised as journalists were to be found in the SCIJ. Members who witnessed that era say: “We all knew who the spies were, but acted as though we did not notice.”
Each year, when I meet up with hundreds of conscientious and principled journalists from Argentina to Israel, from Canada to Kazakhstan, from Russia to the United States and almost all European countries, for a brief time, I get to think that the world can be one. But then the week ends and I go back to our sad reality.