On Monday the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to UNESCO Eleonora Mitrofanova was elected to chair UNESCO's Executive Board. Thus, for the first time over the years of UNESCO’s existence one of the key posts in the Organization is taken up by a Russian. The Rossiiskaya Gazeta newspaper asked its new Chairwoman to answer a number of questions.
The Rossiiskaya Gazeta newspaper: First of all, Eleonora Valentinovna, our sincere congratulations. What new functions is it incumbent on you to exercise?
Eleonora Mitrofanova:The Executive Board comprising 58 representatives of UNESCO member states works continuously between sessions of the General Conference of the Organization. It is occupied with their preparing, follows up the programs implementation, and communicates with other international structures of the UN system. I shall be brief, I am to coordinate this activity.
RG: That is you have to be doubly diplomat: remaining the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation, you have to advocate the interests of UNESCO on the whole?
Mitrofanova: Yes, that's the case. You know, our organization has a good tradition to take decisions by consensus. But one has to put out considerable effort to achieve it. That is why, as a rule, it is the people having prior experience of working with UNESCO who are elected to this post. As for me, in due time I was Deputy Director-General, which may have been influential in my election.
RG: This year has become symbolic for UNESCO in some way. For the first time in the history of the Organization a woman became its Director-General – a Bulgarian Irina Bokova. And now you have placed yourself at the head of the Executive Board
Mitrofanova: Yes and almost all my deputies are women too!
RG: Like this a sort of feminization of UNESCO’s leadership is taking place: ladies take up commanding heights. And what does the male part of the organization think in this connection?
Mitrofanova: Those, whom I had to bring up this point with, had nothing against.
RG: As Irina Bokova has already given to understand, reforms come forth in UNESCO. What spheres will they concern?
Mitrofanova: To speak about our programs in the sphere of education, culture, and science, they will be implemented, as it was just planned at the 35th Session of the General Conference of UNESCO. Certainly, in the mid-term perspective some corrections are possible. Reforms are most likely to concern the Secretariat of the Organization: administration costs cutout is planned, in order to redirect them to the program activity.
Irina Bokova advanced a thesis about a “new humanism of the ХХI century.” I think that it is necessary to show consideration for this idea. UNESCO has a good tradition – to hold theme debates within the Executive Board. For the period of my chairmanship I will suggest the theme of Tolerance. Here one has to speak about the cultural heritage, cultures dialogue, human rights, counteraction to racial intolerance. I think that one will have to involve distinguished specialists in these fields in the discussion to find out how they see the world’s future, how one can practically contribute to fostering tolerance.
RG: By the way, last Monday St. Petersburg was awarded an honorary diploma of the UNESCO Prize for the promotion of tolerance and non-violence ideas.
Mitrofanova: In St. Petersburg and its region, where representatives of more than 150 nationalities live, this work is being done very actively indeed. Solid budgetary funds have been assigned for it, which gives real positive results, marked out by our organization.
If we have touched this range of problems, I think that UNESCO should come to a brand new level of cooperation with mass media. At the present time their influence on minds of people of various nationalities, cultures, religions, social rank is enormous. That is why the involvement of this category of partners in closer cooperation with UNESCO in advocacy of humanism, tolerance, cultural diversity is the major task of the Organization, particularly of the Executive Board.
RG: Which areas of UNESCO's activities are of more interest for Russia?
Mitrofanova: They are many. Particularly, everything that concerns the sphere of education. You know, thanks to the development of means of communication the world more and more transforms, let us say, into a big communal flat. We are well-informed about what is going on abroad, any information became accessible.
Changes are striking, they have also touched children. But the school, unfortunately, has remained approximately at the same level as 30-40 years ago. And beside that, everywhere, including Russia, where it had been perfectly debugged earlier, the level of vocational education drops. Add student mobility to this: in the whole world it has reached the highest level. Because now one can study in any university over the Internet. That is why the whole world is now in search for optimal versions of the educational system, beginning with the school one. So, a certain unification of programs, radical reconsideration of our approaches to the education in whole are vital for us. That is, we have enormous amount of work before us.
There are 700 million illiterates in the world. That is why the greatest task now is the education for all. By the way, UNESCO’s program is so named. Recall that the question was about it in 2007 at the meeting of G8 in St. Petersburg, where it was resolved that: the Education for All Program will be carried out by 2015. Russia will take the most active part in it, will be one of its donors, using the system of the International Bank.
For Russia the participation in the Convention on the World Cultural and Natural Heritage protection is of great importance too. Recall that the World Heritage List includes 23 Russian Sites. These are the Kremlin, centers of St. Petersburg and Yaroslavl, the Kizhi Pogost, the Caucasus Reserve, Baikal, Virgin Komi Forests and others. Then, the international tourism is now developing watching just this UNESCO list. For example, American tourists go exclusively to the places designated there. So, apart from the necessity of preserving these resources for future generations, with proper arrangement of tourist business they can be very efficient.
We also get the practical efficiency from the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO, we are cooperating with actively. Its work is the prevention of tsunami, observation of the climate. We would have spent colossal sums for such data accessing. As a result we have access to data gathered in common on a global basis.
RG: What is, to your mind, the most important political result of the 35th session of UNESCO's General Conference completed not long ago?
Mitrofanova: It may consist of the fact that we have succeeded to prevent the approval of the Draft Declaration of principles concerning artefacts dislocated due to the Second World War. The project was advanced eight years ago by some European countries. What is the intention of the project? It is that everything that was then taken out as restitution and, in the first place, from Germany, should be given back. We saw in it an attempt to put aggressors in the same league as their victims, refuse the adopted in the post-war period international conventions and agreements, particularly put into question Peace Treaties 1947 confirming the legality of cultural values restitution. We succeeded to convince the proponents of the draft Declaration of the validity of our arguments. As a result it was blocked. Thereby the international community received a signal: it is not allowed to rewrite the history, all the more that of the Second World War against Russia’s interests.
RG: At this session it was resolved to create in Moscow a Museum Center on the base of Kolomenskoye Museum under the aegis of your organization. What kind of project is it?
Mitrofanova: The question is about the first in the world UNESCO’s center in the field of museum studies. Under the aegis of the museum one will train specialists from various countries, first of all, the CIS countries in the field of restoration and museum business. Presentation of the center will be held in January 2010 at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris. She will open the calendar of cultural events of the organization and will actually become the first event within the Year of Russia in France.
Published on the website rg.ru on November 23, 2009
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Viacheslav Prokofiev, Paris
Source: official web-site of the Russian Commission for UNESCO