Interview

Time has come to make a woman United Nations chief: Irina Bokova

Your country Bulgaria has now announced your candidature for the UN Secretary General’s post that will go up for election in 2016. How hopeful are you of becoming the first woman UNSG?

Irina Bokova: It’s for the future, of course. The procedure is yet to start officially, and for the moment I am totally focussed on UNESCO and my work here. There’s so much work to be done and I feel my campaign is my work at UNESCO. What I am doing here in terms of the reform of the organisation, and from the political challenges for the world, youth radicalisation and extremism, destruction of heritage by ISIS and others…these are my focus. Lets see for next year how the process (for UNSG) goes, and my government will take the next steps for this.

Even so, do you think it is time for a woman to become UN Secretary General in this election?

Yes I think so, it is an idea whose time has come.

While it’s early in the game, have you spoken to the Indian leadership for support?

Not yet, it is early. But if someone would speak it would be not me, but the Bulgarian government and diplomacy.

It is a challenging post, though, and I would like to ask if the UN itself is in danger and need of reconciliation, as we see polarisation between West and East, US and allies vs Russia and China… is the UN in need of reform?

What I can say is that I am a firm believer in the UN and in multilateralism. With globalisation and connectivity, the UNs role is critical, whether you see the post-2015 agenda or conflict, UN has a critical role. I am following all the discussions on UN reforms, they are important discussions and as I said I am a firm believer.

And what about India’s role, given that India has bid for a place in an expanded security council? Would you support a bigger role for India?

Oh yes, I think India plays a hugely important role at the UN. India is a continent in itself. I think UNESCO and India will succeed in all of our ambitions for sustainable development. I think India’s contributions are critical. And I am always happy to come there as I have had the pleasure of having done on several occasions.

Ahead of the UNGA, UNESCO has played a big part to shift the world from Millenium Development goals to Sustainable Development goals that you want adopted. What will this shift mean?

The process the UN has followed in post-2015 agenda is the most important process. UNESCO has been heavily integrated in the process to set the new course for global development. It will be universal, and people-centric. I know there is a debate about whether 17 goals is too big, or 169 targets are too ambitious for the global community, but I do believe we have to aim high. The challenges we have don’t leave us the time to postpone them. I hope the summit in September will pass the agenda. Later this year we have the COP21 climate change conference in Paris. We cant look at one without the other.

You’ve pointed to the criticism, that the number of goals are too many. Arent you diluting the core principles, that instead of basic goals like poverty alleviation, the UN are going for value-laden goals like democracy governance, human rights, inequality, even conditionality of aid for these. How do you answer those criticisms?

I don’t agree. Firstly poverty alleviation is still a goal. We cannot move forward without education for example. But now we are targeting more, we are looking at quality of education, which was not a goal earlier. So apart from 150 million kids who aren’t going to school, we have 250 million kids who have been to years in school but cannot actually read and write. So we do need to integrate these into the goals we are already aiming for.

PM Modi visited UNESCO headquarters earlier this year. What are the most important projects that you are working on with India?

We were very happy to have Mr. Modi come to UNESCO this year as we have very strong relations with India. His speech on April 10th was historic. We all remember PM Nehru when he said UNESCO is the conciousness of humanity. At UNESCO we are more than a development partner, we set the global vision to protect culture, promote science and as a result build peace. Through this lens we can give a different perspective on what makes sustainability and what makes peace. One wonderful initiative of the PM was to introduce June 21 as Yoga day, and now we have welcomed India’s proposal to submit Yogaphone inscription onto the representative list of intangible cultural heritage. This will mark the contribution of this very unique tradition of India in harmony with nature. We work with India also in the area education. In India we have the first UNESCO institute on peace and human rights education. India has been one of the leaders on literacy and women’s education. The Indian Ambassador to UNESCO Ruchira Khamboj has also just informed me of two candidacies of two cities Varanasi and Jaipur to be part of our creative cities network.

India also had a petition to make Delhi a heritage city..but had to withdraw it over concerns it would have an impact on development…

Well that is a debate worldwide now. Delhi is a wonderful historic city with the Red Fort and others monuments needing protection and express by themselves the dialogue amongst cultures. I know that UNESCO is criticised for being too rigid on rules about how heritage must be protected. On the other hand we see so much pressure on monuments, from urbanisation, pressure of economic development, from the environment, and then from wars and fighting and wilful destruction we have seen in Syria and Iraq from ISIS.

Many would argue that they cultural and monumental destruction doesn’t compare to the human destruction- deaths, rapes, women and children sold into slavery by ISIS…and that UNESCO’s concerns may not be as urgent.

It is a false choice. The humanitarian disaster is of course huge. We condemn all these deaths and terrible crimes perpetrated. But destruction of heritage is part of the same disaster. This destruction depletes people of their culture and depletes their memories. That is why the UNSC also recognises the trafficking of heritage as a crime. So the cultural concern is part of the humanitarian and security concerns.

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Printable version | Mar 8, 2021 11:33:06 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/interview/irina-bokova-in-an-interview-with-the-hindu/article7516508.ece

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