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U.S. must promote education to counter radicalisation, says Audrey Azoulay

As the race for the Unesco Director-General heats up, the nine candidates from different countries are making their way to India, seen as one of the most important votes to get. In an interview , Audrey Azoulay , who as French presidential adviser on culture had led many programmes on preserving culture and history, including rescuing Syrian monuments desecrated by ISIS, says the biggest problem for the U.N. organisation today is the withdrawal of funding, particularly from the U.S.

You hope to lead Unesco at a time of financial crisis. What has caused this situation, and what solutions you would like to implement?

This issue cannot be resolved without addressing how the organisation operates and assessing its work. Some member states have raised questions as to Unesco’s reliability and efficiency, and it is in our responsibility to rebuild a true confidence pact with both public and private contributors.

It is necessary to rebuild dialogue with the U.S. and all member states in arrears of their contribution to the organisation.

How significant will changes in world leadership, especially in the U.S. be to Unesco’s future and that of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? How do you hope to counter the Trump administration’s disinterest in funding the United Nations and Unesco in particular?

It is in the interest of Americans to promote education all over the world as the response to terrorism and radicalisation cannot be only taking security measures; it must naturally be through education. I understand that a new dialogue will have to be established with the current U.S. administration. All programmes implemented in the organisation are of interest to American society and actors. I believe strongly in the benefits of multilateralism. But if this conviction is not shared, there is little that can be achieved.

France is a member of the P-5, but you are up against China, as well as candidates from the Arab world — a region that has not yet had a term, including the Egyptian candidate who is backed by the African Union. Why do you propose that India would support your candidature over the others?

The selection procedure for the Director-General’s position is based on an open pool of candidacies. As you are aware, there are nine candidates in all: four from the Arab Group and five from other geographical groups, including one from Latin America and three from Asia (Azerbaijan, China and Vietnam).

The competition is thus, balanced and fair. As Unesco Director-General, I will always be fair-minded and willing to listen to each geographical group, and I will do my utmost to ensure that no group feels marginalized or unacknowledged.

As regards India, it is a key player in Unesco, highly valued for its commitment in each of the fields of action of the organization: education, heritage and culture, sciences, freedom of the press. Your country’s involvement in Unesco is fully in line with the spirit in which the French Government presented my candidacy for the post of Director General.

On the subject of representation, seven of 10 previous D-G’s of Unesco have belonged to Europe or America. Shouldn’t this election see a candidate from the “East” succeed instead?

Unesco is at a critical turning point in its history. The real issue is the future of Unesco, not the nationality of the candidates.

All candidacies are relevant. Mine is coherent with my personal experience and the values of humanism, cultural diversity, multilateralism, universalism — promoted and implemented by France, and all member states and partners that share these common values. Bolstered by these values and this tradition, France is in a position to dialogue with everyone and build consensus.

On the whole, Unesco has been impacted by “politicisation” for example on the votes over Kosovo, or over the ownership of Jerusalem and Hebron. As D-G, how will you work to reduce the politicisation?

The organisation is indeed divided on these issues, but division is not inevitable. Unesco is the only place where men and women of goodwill can address sensitive issues on a level playing field, transcending the balances of power between states. Unesco must represent the hopes of our new generations.

Unesco must represent the hopes of our new generations

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