The current session of the Executive Board is taking place against a backdrop of a key event for UNESCO, which is the election of a new director-general. It is clear how important this event is at the current stage in the history of our organisation. First of all, I would like to express appreciation and gratitude to Ms Irina Bokova for her able leadership of our organisation for the past eight years. It is only natural that member-countries invest their hopes for a new stage in UNESCO’s work in a future director-general. At the same time the future head of the Secretariat should not be seen as a kind of messiah capable of resolving all problems at one fell swoop. It is the member-countries, that is, you and us, who are primarily responsible for the future of UNESCO. The election gives us an opportunity to demonstrate our political will and provide real support to our organisation.
Recently, we have often heard the term inclusiveness at UNESCO. The member-countries are seeking greater involvement in UNESCO’s activities, as well as in the discussions and decision-making. It is a natural and legitimate aspiration. However, the first thing that requires genuine inclusiveness is contributing to the organisation’s budget. Unfortunately, over a third of the member-countries are non-payers. We consider the refusal to contribute to the budget, especially if politically motivated, a gross violation of the Constitution and the Financial Regulations. It is a pity that major payers, including permanent members of the UN Security Council, who bear special responsibility for the normal functioning of the UN system, resort to this improper practice.
Inclusiveness can also be secured if we agree on the priorities of the programme of activities. It is impossible to keep cutting the budget while setting the Secretariat new tasks at the same time. Right now, an “a la carte UNESCO” is taking shape literally before our eyes: the organisation is practically deprived of budget resources to fund its programmes while its employees carry out projects commissioned by donors. All this deals a blow to UNESCO’s traditional priorities, especially in respect of the interests of African countries.
Reform also requires inclusivity. If proposals do not enjoy consensus – especially those involving amendments to the Constitution or the Rules of Procedure – a reform cannot be effective.
And, finally, the third aspect of inclusiveness is rejecting politicisation. We are certainly not so naïve as to see UNESCO as an ivory tower isolated from modern political problems. However, there must be some red lines. The member-countries must be responsible and abstain from including on the agenda issues that do not fall within UNESCO’s authority or those that UNESCO is known to be unable to resolve, as this essentially creates dividing lines within the organisation.
UNESCO’s mission to “cultivate peace in the minds of men and women” has never been more in demand. The organisation is capable of contributing to the joint efforts to combat terrorism, extremism and xenophobia and is expected to act in this way. This is what UN Security Council Resolution 2354 urges us to do, as it assigns UNESCO a special role in preventing radicalisation using educational tools.
It is necessary to cultivate, primarily in young people, respect for the cultural and civilisational diversity of the modern world. Our organisation cannot stand on the sidelines while its legal regulations are flouted. I am speaking about the Convention Against Discrimination in Education, which the recently passed Ukrainian education law flagrantly violates.
Now a few words about another important UNESCO mission, which is to protect world cultural heritage. The UN Security Council has adopted the historic Resolution 2347 to this effect. Our country is actively involved in accomplishing the tasks set in this resolution. In particular, one key event in this area was the signing, yesterday, of the Memorandum of Understanding between the State Hermitage Museum and UNESCO on the protection and restoration of cultural treasures in conflict zones, in particular in the Middle East.
I believe that our organisation cannot remain indifferent when civilised Europe tolerates the demolition of monuments to the liberators of the continent and heroes of the Second World War, the outcome of which laid the foundation of the UN. We believe that UNESCO should move fast to address this issue as a matter of priority and put a legal framework in place to stop such actions.
We are confident that despite all the current difficulties, our organisation is still capable of working effectively to strengthen trust and mutual understanding between countries and peoples, promote the dialogue of cultures and faiths, and defend cultural diversity and eternal moral values.
Thank you for attention.