Cambridge Union President Christopher George Nordin Ćatić

What first made you want to become President of the Cambridge Union?

When I got to Cambridge I didn’t know about the Union; I didn’t know what it did; I didn’t know that it even existed. It was only at the end of my first year, which had been pretty badly hit by Covid, that I got involved. Being an undergraduate from a ‘mature’ college there are times when it can feel isolating from the rest of the university. I joined because I wanted to meet people from across Cambridge.

I decided to keep going up in the Union because I kept seeing areas that I thought could be done better or were lacking in something. Hearing from friends who weren’t part of the Union about what they would be interested in, why they didn’t want to get involved, all those chats made me want to change it.

At each stage there felt like there was more that I could do, so I kept going.

Were any past speakers completely different in person to what you expected when you invited them?

That is tricky. There are speakers who are exactly what you think they’re going to be like. Before I interviewed Anthony Scaramucci, I thought he was going to be this jovial, big personality, with some controversial opinions; and he was. But he spent a long time asking about me. It’s not often you get to sit with these people when there aren’t cameras or recorders and just chat. I think that is what is most surprising about celebrities, politicians, or any high-profile person is that they are, of course, people; they like to make jokes (some better than others), talk about their kids, and ask about your degree. Often those who are most frequently in the eye of the media are the most relaxed when out of it. You get to see a different side of them.

What’s the best pearl of wisdom you’ve heard from a Union speaker?

It’s funny because there isn’t one quote that stands out. I have definitely learnt a lot from listening to the people that come to the Union – it’s why I am so excited about this term because there is such a diverse range of speakers to hear from. But probably the speaker that stands out the most wasn’t a head of state or singer, but the chef Ainsley Harriott; he did not stop smiling. He spoke to everyone that asked a question like they were the only person in the room, he spent ages meeting anyone that wanted to talk to him afterwards, and he was having fun while doing it. I think that whole experience showed me that the attitude you take to each task really matters, not just for yourself but for others. If you are having fun, then the experience is fun and other people have fun. If you’re engaged with them then they are engaged with you. This may seem like an obvious lesson we all know but seeing it really in action is something different.

Why do you think many students see the Union as an elitist institution?

I think a large part of it is because we haven’t been clear why we are here. If people do not know who we are or what we are here to do, then all they see is people in black tie in a pretty building. Behind the ceremony, the purpose of the Union is to build up a marketplace of ideas to which all can join, participate in, and gain from. We are here for disagreement in the belief that through the exchange of ideas, perspectives, and experiences progress is made. This is a space for people to challenge and be challenged.

You’ve mentioned wanting more Anglia Ruskin students to join the Union. How are you going to make this happen, and make the Union more accessible in general?

A huge obstacle to engaging Anglia Ruskin students is simply a lack of knowledge about us because we haven’t reached out to them. So, a big push on our end is just getting the word out, that is and must be the first step.

In terms of accessibility more generally we’ve taken some real steps forward this term. Joining with Hidden Disabilities and making sure the Ask Angela scheme is in the bar will help make the Union a more welcoming environment. Restarting the debating workshops and running new speaker workshops will hopefully give people the chance to build up their confidence and skills to debate and ask questions. We are also looking at ways to expand our relationship with local schools. Of course, the biggest barrier to entry is often financial, so we have reopened applications for scholarships, offering discounted membership for those in need, and lowering the overall price until the 25th of January. There is still work to be done and we are exploring lots of ways to ease the cost of buying membership. Accessibility is central to building up a real marketplace of ideas. If we keep that as our goal and be honest about our flaws, then we can and will continue to get better.

Congratulations on a wide-ranging termcard, which could be seen as a departure from previous termcards – perhaps a lot more down to earth? What were your thought processes when deciding who to invite?


Mountain View

Ex-Union president on Prince Andrew, CUCA, and historical censorship

My team have been instrumental in helping me put it together and so they should be given massive credit as well. I was very clear that there were two goals for this term. First, make sure that there was something for everyone to be excited about. Second, to bring in new and different perspectives that have not had a large presence at the Union before.

The result is the most incredible line up of debates on some of the most topical issues we face as a country. The first debate, on the NHS, comes as the Labour Party is calling for reform and nurses are on strike. On the speaker side we have a range from celebrities to activists. You can hear about Iranian protests one week, an art forger the next, and a musician the week after that. A large part of the success in this was listening to my team, other students, and trusting them.

If you could only change one thing about the Union during your presidency, what would you want it to be?

To change only one thing…I would refocus the Union as a space for the exchange of ideas. A society that has a clear purpose, welcoming to different opinions and actively reaching out to find new perspectives. A space where disagreement is accepted and expected. I hope this term goes some way in making this a reality. One of the best things about the Union is when you have people from different sides of an issue come together in the bar afterwards. They are able to disagree with one another and still have a drink with each other. Free speech is built upon mutual respect for the importance of engaging with those who hold different opinions and the process of doing so.