Born in Sofia in 1952, Irina Bokova was the Ambassador of Bulgaria to France and Permanent Delegate to UNESCO until her election. A career diplomat and politician, she studied at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations then at the School of Public Affairs of the University of Maryland (USA). She served first as Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs (1995–1997) then as Minister of Foreign Affairs (1997). In 1996, as candidate to the post of Vice President of Bulgaria, she advocated her country’s membership of NATO and the European Union. She was nominated by UNESCO’s Executive Board on 22 September, after obtaining 31 of the 58 ballots in the fifth round of voting, ahead of Hosni Farouk, Egyptian Minister of Culture. The Board selected Irina Bokova from among nine candidates interviewed on 15 September. In addition to Hosni Farouk and herself, these were: Ina Marčiulionytė (Lithuania); Mohammed Bedjaoui (Algeria); Sospeter Mwijarubi Muhongo (United Republic of Tanzania); Alexander Vladimirovich Yakovenko (Russian Federation); Ivonne Juez de A. Baki (Ecuador); Benita Ferrero-Waldner (Austria); and Nouréini Tidjani-Serpos (Benin).
On her website* – licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution –, Irina Bokova outines her vision for UNESCO. ‘The greatest challenge is to lead the world into a new era of peace and humanism,’ she says, ‘to create more inclusive, just and equitable societies through sustainable economic and social development, based on science, innovation and new technologies that will serve mankind and preserve the environment.’ ‘My belief is that science must be one of the priorities’, she writes. ‘UNESCO should become the leader and mobilizer of governments, specialized agencies and the scientific community in the field of science, innovation and new technologies, including green technologies, under the slogan Science and Technology serving Humanity.’
For the new Director-General, ‘climate change, biodiversity, mitigation of natural disasters, water resources management, energy and pandemics are the new key challenges in science which should be given priority in UNESCO’s programmes, while incorporating the ethical dimension.’ She also feels that ‘UNESCO should complement national policies to better integrate science, research and science education.’
Bokova states that, ‘in order to enhance the visibility of science as a priority, I shall propose the establishment of a Scientific Advisory Committee of eminent personalities such as Nobel Prize Laureates and winners of UNESCO Prizes.’
She observes that ‘we need to enhance multilateralism and reinvigorate the United Nations [...] I am more confident than ever before that, notwithstanding UNESCO’s universal mandate, Africa’s development needs, especially in education, and those of the Small Island Developing States as the most crisis-stricken countries in the world, should continue to be a strong priority.’
‘UNESCO’s budget is clearly modest compared with our ambitions,’ she observes. ‘But we have to be realistic; in times of crisis, UNESCO should make a better and more efficient use of available resources, reduce administrative costs, modernize its structures and become a more reactive and performing organization. Programme implementation should clearly be given priority over administrative activity.’
The Director-General is nominated by the Executive Board and appointed by the General Conference for a period of four years, since a recent reform of UNESCO’s Constitution. The Director-General may be reappointed for a second term of four years but shall not be eligible for a third term.
The first Director-General to hail from Eastern Europe, Irina Bokova succeeds Koïchiro Matsuura (Japan, 1999–2009), Federico Mayor (Spain, 1987–1999), Amadou-Mahtar M'Bow (Senegal, 1974–1987), René Maheu (France, 1961–1974), Vittorino Veronese (Italy, 1958–1961), Luther Evans (USA, 1953–1958), John Wilkinson Taylor (USA, 1952–1953), Jaime Torres Bodet (Mexico, 1949–1952) and Julian Huxley (UK, 1946–1949).
- Related links:
:: I. Bokova website (More)
:: 35th General Conference of UNESCO (More)
:: UNESCOPress No. 2009-124 (More)
* Source:A World of Science, vol. 8, no. 1, January 2010 (in press)