Former President Bill Clinton, addressing Variety’s Unite4Humanity event on Thursday, said that the future of world hotspots like the Ukraine will depend on whether opposing sides come together in cooperation.
Calling “profoundly moving” the scenes of Ukrainians storming the presidential residence yet not looting its contents, Clinton nevertheless said that “it is what happens next that matters.”
“They say today, ‘We want to be free to be friends with Russia and friends with Europe,” he told the audience. “‘We want to be free to chart our own course.'”
“If they can produce a government and a political agreement that bring people together and bridge Russia and Europe and by extension the United States, good things will happen. But if they decide their differences are more important and one side’s gotta win, bad things will happen.”
“Will they unite for humanity?” he asked. “I say that because I spent my life trying to get people together who normally wouldn’t be together, to solve problems faster, cheaper and in a better way.”
Clinton cited as an example Nelson Mandela, who not only invited opponents to his inauguration as South African president, but also put “leaders of the political parties that kept him in prison in his government.”
“He made it work because he was inclusive, because he was determined to share the future, even when every single soul knew he would have been justified for cutting out people who had been wrong to him,” Clinton said.
In his 16-minute speech to the star-studded audience, which included Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Sean Penn and Selena Gomez, Clinton tied his theme of “sharing the future” as essential to addressing to the current divisions in Washington, as well as in other countries like Egypt.
“Unity does not require agreement,” he said. “In the beginning, it does not even require recognizing each other. Whether we like it or not, we are rowing a small boat into a big future together.”
To put it in perspective, he cited the book “The Social Conquest of Earth” by Edward O. Wilson, a Nobel-prize winning microbiologist, as “the most important political book I have read in te last two years.”
Wilson cites the four species that have conquered the earth, Clinton noted: ants, termites, bees and people.
“They have only one thing in common. They are the ones who have cooperated. They are the ones who unite to survive.”
Clinton’s speech kept to the philanthropic themes of the evening, but he also made a few references to the entertainment industry crowd, gathered on a Sony soundstage.
“Somebody told me when I started that politics was nothing more than show business for ugly people,” Clinton said. “And I feel like I am auditioning tonight for something.”