Interview: UNESCO attaches importance to protection of world cultural heritage

08:30, January 20, 2010      

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The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is striving to be a global player in carrying out its mandate, including protecting the world's cultural heritage, and shed more light on the close relations between culture and development, the head of UNESCO has told Xinhua in a recent exclusive interview.

Irina Bokova, the director-general of UNESCO, told Xinhua on Monday afternoon that with her at the helm, the UN agency will " adapt to the changing environment" and "to the demands of the very dynamic environment that we live in."

The Paris-based UNESCO was created in 1946 to build lasting world peace based on the intellectual and moral solidarity of humankind. Its areas of work are education, natural sciences, social and human sciences, culture and communication.


Bokova, a senior Bulgarian diplomat, assumed office in November 2009, becoming the first woman to head the UN culture and education agency and beginning her four-year term to succeed Japanese Matsuura Koichiro, 72.

"I am really proud to be the first woman to be the director of this organization because this organization is important in the areas which are very much linked with the current challenges in the world," Bokova said. "I'm talking about education, I'm talking of course, about culture, which plays a very important role in all the development efforts in any country. I'm talking about science and communication."

"As any organization which has to adapt to the changing environment and to the demands of the very dynamic environment that we live in, we have to streamline our priorities, so we have to look at our structures to look at the management to make it more smooth, to transfer some of the resources from administration to projects to working in the field," she said.

"Of course I want to make UNESCO more visible, more strong, a UNESCO that is really an important player in this global moment because our mandate is at the heart of globalization. I'm sure we can play a more focused role in the development of the world," she said.


During the interview, Bokova denied some media reports that UNESCO is suspending a life sciences prize sponsored by Equatorial Guinea, but she said that efforts are made to look at the procedure and criteria for prizes it endorses.

The UNESCO-Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences was agreed by the organization's member states in November 2008 "in recognition of scientific achievements that improve the quality of human life," reports said. Press reports argued that the prize should be canceled on the ground that the prize was "a reprehensible attempt" by the oil- rich Equatorial Guinea in connection with alleged corruption.

"No, we have not suspended (it)," Bokova said. "I think the information is not correct."

"I am setting a task force. It concerns all the different prizes because at UNESCO, there are very many prizes," she said, adding that the task force will make efforts "in streamlining our activities and trying to optimize all the activities of UNESCO."

"I want that we also look once again at the criteria, at the procedure of setting the prices," she said. "Definitely this is a prize that has been adopted by the executive board, it's not the director-general that decides it, it's the executive board that decides. It concerns the overall procedure and criteria process."


In war-torn Iraq, its rich cultural heritage, in such cities as the capital Baghdad, is being reportedly destroyed by foreign troops stationed there. To check these illegal endeavor, UNESCO, while engaged in reconstruction in Iraq, has worked out programs and projects on the ground to protect the cultural heritage in the country with a long history.

"For Iraq, UNESCO is very much involved in the reconstruction of the country," Bokova said. "We have programs, a bureau and a lot of projects" for protecting the cultural heritage.

The most important projects that UNESCO has in Iraq include fighting illicit trafficking of cultural property and facilitating the return of stolen property, she noted.

"We cooperate very much with Interpol (International Criminal Police Organization)," she said. "We have a list of institutions and experts in Iraq for the assistance of Iraqi authorities and we have established a committee with the Ministry of Culture, which has regular sessions with UNESCO. The last such session was on the 12th and 13th of January."

"It's an international coordination committee for Iraqi cultural heritage," she said. "What we do is a capacity building. We are very much involved. We have projects for the rehabilitation of conservation laboratory for heritage. It's mainly capacity building but of course it's a laboratory."

"We have organized six training sessions only," she said. "Last year and the year before it was in this capacity building program. We have special program on museum management, which we consider to be very important. Also we provide special training for the museum collection database for Iraq's heritage."

"So we do have quite an elaborate program specifically for Iraq because Iraq has an extremely rich heritage, which we consider we need to preserve," Bokova said.


"The preservation of cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible, is very much linked, on one side is a response to globalization, and is linked also to the development efforts," Bokova said.

"Apart from the convention that we have, the two main conventions, there is also a very important area that UNESCO is doing for cultural diversity," she said, referring to the two conventions for the protection of tangible and intangible cultural and natural heritage in the world.

"All these activities go very much into the heart of what UNESCO is about, which is about to send a message of more tolerance, more respect for diversity, reconciliation, and especially now that we're launching the international year of rapprochement of cultures, for which UNESCO is the leader within the United Nations system," she said.

"Next month, I will be not only launching the international year but I will be setting a high panel on peace and dialogue among cultures," she said. "The main objective is to pass a strong message towards the international community that in this globalized world, we need to be more tolerant and be more tolerant for the respect of diversity."

Also included in the message is "that UNESCO is the organization which best plays through, of course, the different sectors and programs like education and culture or even in the science sector and communications to be this moral intellectual leader of what the statute of UNESCO is and what this organization has been created for, to build peace in the minds of people," she said.

Bokova, a mother of two grown children, has been a member of the UNESCO Executive Board since 2007. She was the Bulgarian ambassador to France and Monaco, and the personal representative of the Bulgarian president to the "Organization Internationale de la Francophonie" and the permanent delegate to UNESCO from 2005 to 2009.

Born in 1952, she obtained an MBA degree from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations and studied at the University of Maryland in the United States. During her long and distinguished career, she also served as the permanent Bulgarian representative to the United Nations and as her country's secretary of state for European integration and foreign minister.

Thanks to her diversified study experiences, Bokova can speak fluent English, Russian, French and Spanish besides her mother tongue.

Source: Xinhua
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