Mitrofanova: UNESCO properly recognizes Russia’s stand

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Q.: A lot is being said today about international organizations, including the United Nations, losing their importance as a tool for settling international problems. Is UNESCO losing its position and weight as a UN agency at a time when certain countries are ignoring important resolutions of the UN Security Council?

A.: The United Nations is a universal organization that does not have an analog in the world. It is a global organization, with all countries having a vote. It is a center for resolving problems the entire humankind encounters. Given that the organization was set up in the era of a bipolar world and still functions under the documents adopted then, many say it is necessary to reform it.

Indeed, any organization requires some reforming from time to time. A UN reform today is needed first of all to make it possible to respond to the quickly changing developments in the world promptly and efficiently, be it a regional conflict, a natural calamity, an industrial disaster or economic turmoil.

The UNESCO was set up simultaneously with the United Nations as an agency designed to instill ideas of peace in people’s minds via culture, science and education. Its mission has not changed since then nor has its importance diminished.

It is important to understand, that today we are witnessing a struggle for shaping a new world order. There are attempts to impose a pyramidal arrangement on the world, with the US and its allies on top as leaders and the rest doing their bidding and following their rules. This often results in ignoring the opinion of the majority at the United Nations. Yet these are deadend approaches that only further escalate tensions and instability in the world. Most countries in the world do not agree with them. And it is international organizations that shape common attitudes and formulate future agendas. So there is presently no alternative to the United Nations.

Q.: What are the most important areas of Russia-UNESCO cooperation in 2014? What is the plan for 2015?

A.: UNESCO today is the biggest inter-governmental forum on intellectual cooperation. Its mandate and sphere of competences are quite broad.

UNESCO focuses on the pivotal present-day issues of sustainable development in the areas of education, science, culture, communication and information. Each of these areas offers a broad sphere for work and numerous derivative topics and tasks. Today, UNESCO member states are forced to set top priorities and look for ways to efficiently use the organization’s resources at a time of its mounting importance and simultaneous significant reduction of its financial possibilities.

Russia’s permanent delegation to UNESCO as its official foreign-policy body represents the country at the international organization. Our task is to pursue Russia’s uniform policy at UNESCO and coordinate participation of federal executive bodies, regional authorities, Russian government institutions, organizations and companies, their delegations and expert groups in the work of the organization’s bodies. Russian delegations and expert groups that come to UNESCO help the permanent delegation to carry out its functions and coordinate their activities with us.

The Russian delegation functions in cooperation with the Russian Commission for UNESCO Affairs, which is a governmental coordinating body ensuring interaction of the Russian government, federal executive bodies, other bodies and organizations, as well as scientists and experts with UNESCO.

In its contacts with the global community, UNESCO actively engages its Goodwill Ambassadors, Special Envoys and Artists for Peace from among outstanding representatives of the civil society. Goodwill Ambassadors from Russia are Zurab Tsereteli, president of the Russian Academy of Arts, Ara Abramyan, president of the World Armenian Congress, and Vitaly Ignatenko, member of the Federation Council. The UNESCO Artist for Peace title has been awarded to Valery Gergiyev, Vladimir Spivakov, Sergei Markarov. Vyacheslav Fetisov, three times Olympic champion, is the UNESCO Champion for Sports.

International humanitarian activities under the auspices of UNESCO remain attractive for Russian celebrities. Notably, we recently initiated awarding special UNESCO titles to popular Russian singer Alsu and to poet and public figure Alexandra Ochirova. In April 2014, UNESCO appointed the distinguished Russian pianist Denis Matsuyev its Goodwill Ambassador, given his outstanding achievements in artistic education.

Speaking about the spheres of our, so to say, everyday interaction with UNESCO, I can point out that Russia invariably participates in all of the organization’s major programs and projects. It is not only about looking for benefits for our own development. Participation in UNESCO programs is an objective proof of maturity of a nation, its understanding of its own role in today’s international exchanges and its high responsibility for the future of the world and its people, first of all, for issues of war and peace. With regard to the general civilizing efforts, I would say that UNESCO properly recognizes Russia’s position as one of the world’s leading powers. Our authority here is still high.

Let me give you some most typical examples of our cooperation.

Education has been considered the main area of UNESCO’s international cooperation for many years. Many Russian universities and research centers function under the auspices of UNESCO. Russian universities have set up over 50 UNESCO departments specializing in scientific tasks within the Organization’s mandate. About 300 educational establishments in Russia have the status of UNESCO associated schools.

Together with UNESCO, Russia is taking steps to achieve two of the United Nations Millennium Development goals: free and mandatory primary education and gender equality in elementary and secondary school.

An important part of our interaction with UNESCO is the sphere of fundamental and applied sciences, technologies, natural and social sciences.

UNESCO works with a broad range of UN agencies, organizations and non-government institutions in science and technology. Its key partners include the International Council for Science, which comprises academies of sciences and academic boards, and the International Council for Construction and Industrial Technologies.

Water is a top priority for UNESCO. The International Hydrological Program provides for obtaining of scientific data, professional technical training and consulting on strategic areas in order to use the precious resource – water – efficiently, fairly and without damage to the environment. The International Hydrological Program also aims at looking for forms and methods for preventing conflicts that arise due to water shortage on the national and international levels.

The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission coordinates scientific research of different UN agencies and institutes. It constantly monitors the ocean in order to improve the quality of meteorological forecasts, to tell in advance and timely warn the population about tsunamis or hurricanes. The Commission also participates in the setup of the Global Ocean Observing System, a program that will help to better understand the influence of sea currents on climate changes. To do that, the system will use data received from ships and satellites.

Russian scientists are regular and influential participants of the majority of the above named UNESCO programs. At present, our country is being considered for the host of a most prestigious international meeting of the UN Secretary General’s Scientific Advisory Board.

Perhaps, the best known, flagship program of the organization, which immediately evokes associations with UNESCO, is the World Heritage.

UNESCO has created a comprehensive system for protecting unique monuments of global importance.

The UNESCO World Heritage List includes 27 Russian sites (including Khersones in the Crimea), out of which 17 are cultural and 10 natural monuments. Three sites are Russia’s joint nominations with other countries: the Curonian Spit (Lithuania), the Ubsunur basin (Mongolia), the Struve Geodetic Arc (Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldavia, Norway, Ukraine, Finland, Sweden and Estonia).

Another 27 Russian sites are waiting for their turn on the World Heritage waiting list. The latest sites to be suggested were the Kenozerye Reserve in the Arkhangelsk region and the memorial Heroes of the Battle for Stalingrad on the Mamaev mound.

In the context of international cooperation, Russia came up with the initiative to preserve World Heritage sites in Kosovo, Serbia, an agreement on which was signed at UNESCO in 2010. Following this agreement, the Russian government made a $2bn voluntary target contribution to UNESCO.

The list of sites to be restored with Russia’s assistance was determined in coordination with UNESCO and the Serbian party and included 4 Orthodox Christian architectural ensembles in Kosovo. All repair and restoration work at these sites was highly praised by international experts.

This year’s main achievement is successful addition of another Russian cultural monument to the UNESCO World Heritage List. After many years of hard research and practical work, UNESCO international experts recognized the unique historical and architectural complex of the ancient town of Bolgar, Tatarstan. UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova attended its inauguration in the new capacity in August.

Our next pressing tasks include promotion of new Russian nominations and assistance to preservation of Russian sites already on the list. Speaking of the latter, the most important issues are coordination with UNESCO of the work plan at the Moscow Kremlin and the Novodevichy Monastery.

The UNESCO Sector remains definitely important for us, helping us to defend our interests regarding journalists’ safety (UNESCO is the main agency for these problems within the UN structure). We are trying to raise this topic anew given the situation in Ukraine. The UNESCO Director General has made several statements in recent months in connection with the tragic developments and deaths of Russian journalists. We are positive that this crucial humanitarian topic will remain in UNESCO’s sight even during the organization’s future international meetings and events.

I cannot let go unnoticed the many years of Russia’s efforts to ensure common access to, exchange and preservation of information and knowledge. A crucial step in this direction was the International Expert Meeting on preservation of languages and their development in the cyberspace that took place at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris at the end of October on the sidelines of the Day of the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Area (Yugra).

Russia was one of the main organizers of the forum. It was upon its initiative that UNESCO in 2012 set up within the Information for All inter-governmental program the Working Group on Multilingualism, which is also chaired by our country.

Discussions of the topic of the Crimea began in UNESCO in April 2014. As you know, UNESCO adopted Ukrainian draft resolutions on issues of its competence – education, freedom of expression and protection of the cultural and historical heritage on the peninsula.

To debate these problems with the Organization’s member states we have published from its high rostrum a convincing and well-founded material on the real humanitarian situation in the Crimea, which generated true interest of many delegations.

Q.: Which UNESCO anniversaries and anniversary events attracted the greatest interest? I am referring to the 200th anniversary of Mikhail Lermontov, the 300th anniversary of the Botanic Institute and the 250th anniversary of the Hermitage.

A.: You are right, the program of UNESCO anniversaries has a long history (since 1960) and enjoys a great interest in the world. Russia has been its permanent participant for many years.

Anniversaries under the Organization’s auspices allow attracting greater attention of the international community to outstanding events and figures that made unique contribution to the development of the global culture and science.

Speaking of the past events, the ones that immediately come to memory are the celebration of St Petersburg’s 300th anniversary, the 250th anniversary of the Moscow State University, the 1,000th anniversary of Kazan and then Yaroslavl, the historical centre of which has been declared World Heritage, the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s space flight, which was celebrated with participation of many cosmonauts and astronauts, the 100th anniversary of the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts and the 150th anniversary of Vladimir Vernadsky’s birthday.

This year, apart from the anniversaries you mentioned, Russia will also celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Lazarev Institute of Oriental Languages in Moscow (together with Armenia) and the 200th anniversary of scientist and diplomat Iosif Goshkevich, Russia’s first ambassador to Japan (with Belarus and Japan).

All these anniversaries arouse interest. However, the biggest celebrations will be devoted to the anniversary of the Hermitage, the preparations for which have been going on for several years already. On December 7, the next International Cultural Forum will open in St Petersburg to coincide with the anniversary of Russia’s biggest museum. Celebrations will also be held at the Hermitage itself.

We expect UNESCO, as an international organization that provided huge expert and advisory assistance to the Hermitage in the past, to be very involved in these events.

Next year, we will see other important anniversaries and events. On Russia’s initiative, UNESCO will celebrate the 2,000th anniversary of the ancient city of Derbent. With active support of the Russian Culture Ministry, the Organization’s headquarter will next year host a large-scale exhibition devoted to the 25th anniversary since the first Russian sites – the historical centre of St Petersburg, the Moscow Kremlin and Red Square and the Kizhi burial ground – were included in the World Heritage List.

We will keep your agency and other Russian mass media informed about our future plans and invite you to attend Russian events at UNESCO.