ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 52
Financial Times  


Maldives unveils world’s first virtual embassy

Geneva -- The Maldives last week became the first country in the world to open a virtual embassy in Second Life, the online virtual world.
The Maldives Virtual Embassy will soon be followed by embassies representing Macedonia and the Philippines. Sweden has also announced plans to open a virtual embassy.

The Maldives Virtual Embassy is located in the ‘Diplomatic Quarter’ of Diplomacy Island in Second Life, an on-line space designed to allow new avenues for diplomatic representation and negotiation, especially for small and developing countries that have limited diplomaticoutreach in the “real” world. Diplomacy Island is the brainchild of Diplo Foundation, a nonprofit organisation which works to assist developing countries participate meaningfully international affairs, according to a press release issued by Diplo Foundation.

The official inauguration ceremony took place simultaneously in the real world (Geneva) and in the virtual world (Second Life), with participants in both “place” and “space” able to watch the speeches, interact with each other, and explore the Maldives Embassy and the rest of Diplomacy Island. The ceremony included addresses by Dr. Srgjan Kerim, President Designate of the UN General Assembly (speaking via the Internet from New York), Abdulla Shahid, Minister of State of the Maldives, Sergei Ordzhonikidze, Director General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, Ambassador Walter Fust, Director of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Philip Rosedale, CEO of Linden Labs and Founder of Second Life speaking from Silicon Valley), and Dr. Jovan Kurbalija, Director of Diplo Foundation.

Speaking ahead of the opening ceremony, which was hosted by the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, Maldives Minister Shahid emphasized how information technology and particularly the Internet can be harnessed by small countries to help them participate meaningfully in international relations. He said: “The Maldives is a small country but that does not mean we do not have a valuable contribution to make in international affairs. The Maldives is well known as a tourist destination, but we are also a country that has experienced rapid economic, social and political development over recent years; while our vulnerability to sea-level rise has put us at the forefront of the global debate on climate change.

The Virtual Embassy offers another channel for us to provide information on the country, to offer our viewpoint on issues of international concern, and to interact with our partners in the international community. I warmly welcome anyone interested in the Maldives to pay us a visit in Second Life”.
DiploFoundation’s Director and concept leader of Diplomacy Island, Dr. Jovan Kurbalija, noted that “the core of diplomacy is communication. When communication changes – as is happening now – diplomacy must adjust”. He also expressed his hope that Diplomacy Island will go some way towards addressing the “image deficit” of diplomacy. “In the modern world, thousands of museums celebrate wars and military victories, however there are no museums dedicated to diplomacy” he noted.

Second Life has 6.2 million users and has already become an established home for real-world companies (such as Toyota, Nike and General Motors), media outlets (e.g. Reuters, BBC Radio One), and universities (e.g. Princeton and Harvard).

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.