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Irina Bokova: “My victory made Bulgaria’s successful dialogue policy visible”

Photo: Maria Dimitrova
Bulgaria’s Ambassador to Paris Irina Bokova won these days a difficult victory in a historic moment for UNESCO. These elections would become emblematic for many reasons. For the first time in the history of the organization a lady takes the lead. For the first time the position of Director General would be taken by a representative of East Europe. For the first time the election of the new Head of UNESCO stretches over five rounds and for the first time one of the rounds shows even results. The victory, however, left an aftertaste of tense relations, which the Egyptian candidate, Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni perceived as “a clash of cultures”. Would the new Director General start her work in an atmosphere of rising tension?
“I would do everything possible to avoid that”, Bokova said and added – “During the campaign Mr. Hosni and myself became friends and before the last round we agreed that whatever the result, we would work together. He came to congratulate me and we confirmed the promise we had made. The forthcoming General Conference of UNESCO has very important decisions to make, related to the budget, the reforms in the Organization, the new challenges which we face and that is why we should be united. And seeing the atmosphere both in the Executive Council and among my colleagues in general, I am fully optimistic.”

The culture of dialogue as a major principle in the work of UNESCO is the fundament of the election platform of Mrs. Bokova. She views her victory as the logical result of the sustainable policy Bulgaria has been conducting of dialogue among cultures, playing the role of a stabilizing factor in the turbulent Balkans and the world in general.

“See what happened in former Yugoslavia and what the state and role of Bulgaria was in the meantime, Irina Bokova recalls. Through all those years we succeeded in preserving ethnic peace and move further on in order to join the EU, continuing in the same time to be an active stabilizing factor on the Balkans. I would like to remind of two of the many Bulgarian initiatives in this respect. Bulgaria gave the start to the process of cooperation in South-East Europe /SEE/ and the first foreign ministerial took place in 1996. Another initiative, which was the idea of Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov, was the launching of the movement of culture corridors in SEE under the aegis of UNESCO. These are steps that show how culture can bring the people of a region closer even though the place has until recently been the venue of wars and where the resulting devastation is still visible. My being elected as UNESCO Director General is part of the recognition for Bulgaria’s stabilizing policy on the Balkans.”

One of the priorities of the future Director General is the intention for UNESCO to play the leading role in the sphere of sciences, which it has already gained in the domain of education. Accessibility and the quality of education gain special importance up to date when the abyss between well-off and developing countries grows ever deeper and hits Africa worst of all. Mrs. Bokova would work for the better promotion of the role of culture as a factor for development in the modern world and she only regrets that culture had not been included in the list of Goals of the Millennium. She intends to continue the debate on the Convention on Cultural Heritage, paying due attention to new tendencies related to non-material heritage, the displays of cultural diversity and the preservation of cultural identity in the era of globalization. Another priority for the Bulgarian diplomat is the equality of genders. The latter is part of her concept for “a new humanism of the 21 century”.

“That thought came to me after the start of the devastating financial and economic crisis, which has among others, its moral and ethic dimensions, Bokova goes on to say. As if the world got startled all of a sudden and realized that humankind is fast heading towards economic and technological development, however leaving behind certain moral values. For me humanism today is precisely that: showing greater solidarity with those who have been hit most. It is also in the fight for gender equality, for regaining respect for the individual personality and personal dignity. Humanism in our days is to acknowledge cultural differences. I believe that UNESCO can do a lot for the enforcement of the above-mentioned values.”

Written by: Maria Dimitrova
English version: Iva Letnikova
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