Hatmaker’s Son Turned Prophet: Muller

October 8, 2004

WHEN Robert Muller was a boygrowing up in Alsace-Lorraine, he wasconfused by the French-German border. Tohim, it was merely a river, and on the otherside of the river were people with the samelast names who spoke the same language.But he was told he could not cross theriver, because those Mullers andSchneiders were his enemies.“As a child I asked myself, ‘why do thebirds and the clouds and the sun and themoon go over this border, but I, as a humanbeing, cannot?’” said the 80-year-oldfounder of the University for Peace.This was Muller’s first lesson on therealities of conflict, and many more followedduring World War II. From thesefirst lessons grew Muller’s optimism anddedication to peace that has won him thetitle of prophet of hope from his colleaguesat the United Nations, where he worked formore than 40 years.ONE night as a young fighter of theFrench Resistance, Muller returned to thecountryside after celebrating the liberationof Lyon to find 20 prisoners, whom he hadpromised security if they surrendered, shotdead by his commander in an act ofrevenge. Like a scene out of a movie, thehatmaker’s son turned to the sky andpromised to dedicate his life to peace.“It is interesting, when you have adream, the invisible forces will help yousucceed,” Muller said.Muller has won a number of humanitarianand peace awards, wears a crossfrom the Pope and plays a mean “Ode toJoy” on the harmonica. He recently sharedthese and other pieces of his life with TheTico Times:TT: How did you start at the UnitedNations?RM: One day, coming back fromUniversity of Strasbourg on the train, Iremembered a big billboard announcing acompetition to give a prize to the student inFrance who wrote the best essay on how togovern the world. I said “hey wait aminute, that is a question for you. You wantto have peace in this world you have towrite this essay.”When I got home, I sat down for the nextthree days and the only thing I did was write. A few weeks later I received thefirst prize, an internship in the UnitedNations.How did you meet fellow UPEACEfounder Rodrigo Carazo?I was sitting in my room on the 38thfloor of the United Nations. I was listeningto the speeches, most of them boring. Butat one point in the day, I heard the speechof a guy who was offering to the UnitedNations land in his country to build a universityfor peace. I stopped everything andI ran down to the guy – I embraced him andsaid thank God you have come.Why did you come to Costa Rica andUPEACE full time?I left the U.N. in 1986. I spent a lot oftime at UPEACE because my wife hadAlzheimer’s disease and I found a wonderfulplace for her nearby.Later there was a woman who ownedland above UPEACE … she died and herheirs didn’t know how to divide the land,so they put it up for sale and asked me tobuy it.One day, when I looked at my lastreports from the U.N., I found written inmy journal in 1986: “I dream that somedayas a sort of elder of the United Nations, Iwill live on a hill with a breathtaking viewand spend my last days writing the beautifulstories of my life, and my visions for abetter world.”One rule I have always had is to live mydreams. So I bought the land the same day.What is your role now at UPEACE?I am the chancellor emeritus and I haveno real role. I accept when they ask me todo something.You come to your office here every day.What do you do?I write letters to the Secretary General,and tell him what to do. And I have written6,800 ideas. Every day I write ideas – anyidea for a better world I write down.When I die, I have told my wife, I amgoing to have speeches, and when peoplecome to my tomb they can put 50 cents inand will get a speech from my tomb ofwhat they should do to get an absolutelypeaceful world. I have a lot of fun.

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