22 July 2013

Interview of the Ambassador, Permanent Delegate of Russia to UNESCO Eleonora Mitrofanova for radio broadcast with Konstantin Kosachev“UNESCO is now needed more than ever”


K.Kosachev: Good day, dear listeners of the radio station "Voice of Russia"! With you, as always, amI Konstantin Kosachev, Head of the Federal Agency for CIS Affairs, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation,Special Envoy of the President ofthe Russian Federation for relations with the CIS Member States. Traditionally we have an interesting guest and competent interlocutor in our studio, whom I present with great pleasure because we've known each other a long time - EleonoraMitrofanova, Russian statesman, diplomat, Ambassador, and now Russia's Permanent Delegate to UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). Its Headquarters is located in Paris, and now Eleonora, thank God, is in Moscow, and we have the opportunity to discuss current issues of this organization and what is going on around it. If I may, the first question is a little more personal. If one looks through your biography, it becomes clear that in many ways you were the first and only among Russian women. For example, the auditor of the Accounts Chamber of the Russian Federation, the first and only woman in the post of the First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, you're the first woman in Russia who is a permanent representative to an international organization, in this case, the UNESCO. You were the first Russian who led the Executive Board of UNESCO in 2010-2011, and finally, you have become the first Chair of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee of Russia. A regular session of the World Heritage Committee in Cambodia has recently ended, and I understand that you took part in it too. How were you able to do it? How do you feel when every time your fragile female shoulders carry the weight of a responsible pioneer? E.Mitrofanova: I do not know, perhaps, it is my destiny. When I started working, it was at the Institute of Maritime Transport, there were mostly boys, Ihave always worked in men's teams. I have been the UNESCO Assistant Director-General in 2003. And now almost half of the personnel are women, in both diplomatic corps, and in the UNESCO Secretariat. K.Kosachev: We can’t really say the same about our diplomatic services. E.Mitrofanova: Yes, unfortunately, that is the case. Kosachev: Coming back to the UNESCO, what keeps it going, what is it in general, how acutely does it react to world problems? Is the organizations approach inertial and conservative? Let’s take a look at what is happening in Syria, what was happening in Libya and Egypt before- it is obvious that in these countries there are sites included in the World Heritage List and obviously, they may be threatened. E.Mitrofanova: UNESCO is an UN humanitarian organization, an intellectual organization that has always worked out many ideas. The First Convention of Human Rights was approved by UNESCO, and only then, the UN system started growing and expanding, specific organizations have been made. And before this organization has been doing a lot in the field of education, human rights and the environment. Of course, UNESCO is somewhat conservative and inertial like any large bureaucratic, especially international, structure. On the other hand, there is a response to the things that now arise in the Middle East. I can think of a good example:besides the work of the organization of the UN refugee, UNESCO is working in the refugee camps of Syria, its organizing the educational process for children in these camps, and a lot of them. By the way, in the refugee camps, including old Palestinian, that are located in the territory of neighboring countries, UNESCO also focuses on education and youth support. With regard to the World Heritage Committee at its last meeting all World Heritage sites in Syria, and there are, if I'm not mistaken, six were listed as "endangered." In addition, mechanisms of the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (1970) are in action This refers to what is now happening in Syria: looting, there is a huge illegal traffic of archaeological and cultural items. Therefore, the World Heritage Committee has appealed to the neighboring countries - it is clear that the trade operations are being carried out through them – they’ve also appealed to INTERPOL and to the Customs. In Syria, Aleppo is now badly damaged; there are many world heritage sites. Other objects are not destroyed, but it is clear that because of the civil war, they are under threat. As for Libya, cooperation is being resumed; UNESCO has worked very closely with Libya, starting with the question of fresh water, ending with the establishment of the system of higher education. Libya gave large sums of money to carry out various UNESCO programs in Syria, the so-called self-financing fund, all went through UNESCO, it was not necessary to create additional infrastructure to attract someone, everything was organized by the UNESCO. And now cooperation is being resumed. K.Kosachev: In the List of World Heritage sites, if I'm not mistaken, there are 160 represented countries, nearly 1,000 objects. All countries are seeking to lock their properties in that list. What is the procedure of decision-makers, who makes the decisions and why are States endeavoring this? UNESCO, if I'm not mistaken, does not fund nor the protection of objects, nor their restoration - all of these costs are the States responsibility. And yet, the desire to be in the list is very clear. E.Mitrofanova: Under the Convention there is such a mechanism. The General Assembly accepts the basic documents establishing the procedures, rules, estimates of property. There is a World Heritage Committee, which includes 21 countries, with direct elections, i.e. 20 countries - those countries that have their own properties on the World Heritage List, and one country that does not have a single object in this List. What benefits does a country have with sites from the World Heritage List? Statistics show that being in the World Heritage List at once increases the flow of tourists; it is increased by 30 percent, first. Second - knowing this, the country begins to build infrastructure near the sites. As a rule, it is advised by UNESCO not to harm the property itself. To make a site appear in the List it has to have Outstanding Universal Value. What does that mean? It means that in the world there is only one property with such qualities, there is no other, so it is difficult nowadayswhen there are about a thousand sites in the List. When there weren’t so many, there were no problems, and since the List had widely expanded, the procedure has become much more complicated. It takes a lot of scientific work to prove that the property is unique among others sites that are listed.We have 25 unique properties, since we have joined the Convention of 1972 in 1988, the rate of inscribing our sites is very fast, we have both natural and cultural, 10 natural sites and 15 cultural. Being in the List is one of the problems, but it’s not that hard. The most difficult question is to preserve the properties, thecity’s expansion, the region and the preservation of some object so that the landscape wouldn’t change and that is a big problem.And this problem is now being discussed by Member States. K.Kosachev: During the last WH Committee meeting 19 new sites have been added, 18 countries have been represented, including our neighbors - Ukraine, Tajikistan. Russia has sought to add to this List one more object - located on the territory of Tatarstan, theBolgarHistorical and Cultural Complex. But, if I'm not mistaken, no final decision has been made. What is the fate of the application? Is there a "Waiting List", a list of sites that we have submitted to the World Heritage List? E.Mitrofanova: I'll start with the Bolgarcomplex. This is a unique, very interesting archaeological site, covering a large enough area. In the X century, a known historian and travelerIbn-Fadlan, passing 3.5 thousand kilometers from Baghdad, stopped there in Bolgar. The city has been the center of the Golden Horde for some time, Islam was brought up there. In that place there was an Armenian Church and a Synagogue, it is the north of the KhazarKingdom, the Kaganate. This is the place of where Islam in Russia was born, I do not take the Caucasian peoples, only the center of Russia. So the place itself is very significant, there are many archaeological excavations. What didn’t quite add up is that the International Council on Monuments and Sites, an NGO that brings together independent experts, which is a consultancy organization of the World Heritage Committee thought that there were too many new constructions built nearby. K.Kosachev: Was it a remake, or just have a modern building of this area? E.Mitrofanova: No, there is no development, there is some infrastructure. It was an archaeological field, peopleused to come there but had no idea what to do after examining the archaeological sites.This is the official place where Islam was accepted as a religion, and one could not pray. One could not eat or drink anywhere. Some infrastructure had to be built so that the place would become noteworthy, what has been done and it is very beautiful. There is a magnificent marina, gift center, museum, and everything is out of the sites borders. It seemed to me thatAdvisory Bodies to the World Heritage Committee mainly have Western experts. And I think that they have a slightly different eye. They visit different countries, but they do not have a sense of that place. Clearly, the Medici palaces is somewhat of a goldmine, everything is shining, there is much history. And here, I think, they don’t fully understand the question. During the meeting of the Committee, the interested country does not have the right to vote, it can only answer to specific questions. I was very pleased that 12 countries of the 21-member Committee were on our side. But the recommendation of ICOMOS was “not be inscribed”. We fought for inclusion, knowing that never in the history of the Convention has a decision been changed. We have achieved the best possible result: the Committee recognized that Bolgar had anOutstanding Universal Value - this was the main thing we had to do. I must say that among the countries there was the translator of IbnFadlanworks from Arabic into French, he was defending our object fiercely, saying that it was a truly unique place. Therefore, we have achieved the maximum, the phrase "refers the nomination of theBolgar Historical and Archaeological Complex, Russian Federation, back” which involves a little change of the borders. And now experts will come and will start brainstorming on how to change the border, so that next year without any questions, with full recommendations the property would be included. In 2000 and in 2001, there have already been recommendations by ICOMOS to include, and what had happened there was a total disgrace, in my opinion. But it is an international organization, it is impossible to swing a sword, because one will achieve nothing. Therefore, I think, we have built the right tactics and will achieve our goals. K.Kosachev: Besides theBolgarComplex, are there any other sites that we wish to include in the List? E.Mitrofanova: Yes, we have the properties. For example, there is a serial nomination, in which we would like to include all Russian Kremlins. This refers to the Kremlin of Astrakhan, Pskov, Uglich - 13 Kremlins in general. But we are, frankly, in thought, should we run a serial nomination, because it's a very difficult question, which is not developed in the framework of the Convention 1972. If something happens to one property, all the others will have to suffer too? How will it work? Therefore it is better, perhaps, to separate them into individual sites. The Pskov Kremlin mentioned earlier is a gem, itshould have been on the List a long time ago. K.Kosachev: Well, for now we will cheer for Bolgar. Now the question that was very resonant. I mean information that had appeared in June in the media with reference to the deputies of the Legislative Assembly of St. Petersburg stating that by the initiative of Ministry of Foreign Affaires a letter has been sent to UNESCO with the revised table of the components of the site Historic Centre of Saint Petersburgfrom which the Related Groups of Monumentsin the Leningrad Region have been allegedly excluded. Then the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Russian Commission for UNESCO, and St. Petersburg authorities denied this information. What happened back there? How far is this episode exhausted? E.Mitrofanova: Committee documents are published in English, French, and, I think, someone must have read them inattentively, he saw only a table of these sites, and the preamble, that was the main thing at stake, hadn’t been read. Either it is a great provocation against the authorities of St. Petersburg, I can’t think of any other explanation. The concern is that St. Petersburg is a very big World Heritage site. It consists of the city heart, and the surrounding monuments. Adjacent sites - Kronstadt, and Gatchina and Pavlovsk - all the pearls of St. Petersburg and near it areWorld Heritage sites. It has long been discussed on how to set clear boundaries and the so-called buffer zone. Since the object is very complicated, the Committee as an exception allowed St. Petersburg to submit its limits in 2 separate stages. The first stage - the Center of St. Petersburg and the Kronstadt. And the first step was brought up on the first meeting of the Committee in Phnom Penh, and the other one will be given at the next session. How could the Legislative Assembly accept a resolution just out of the mouth of some man? It's not clear to me. It was done by the State Committee Inspectorate for Protection of Monuments (KGIOP),the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had nothing to do with that, our diplomats have been unjustly accused. The incident seems exhausted to me, KGIOP and the rest gave explanations. It is a technical clarification of limits of the site in two stages, this year only some of the components have been submitted, the others will be filed later. K.Kosachev: Well, let's hope that your explanation will finally calm the agitated public. By the way, this is not the first time when emotions are running high,it’s enough to recall the history of the "Ohta-Center" project in St. Petersburg, there was a real threat to be removed from the World Heritage List. There were plans to build a tourist and recreation center on the Curonian Spit, but the inspection of UNESCO issued a warning. There were warnings of UNESCO and at the initial stage of the construction of sports facilities for the Sochi Olympics, the first plan threatened the region by deprivation of the status of the natural World Heritage Property. Same thing happened with the Baikal pulp and the paper mill….. E.Mitrofanova: …..of Altai. K.Kosachev: Yes, the "Golden Mountains of Altai", regarding the “Virgin Forests of Komi” - UNESCO had also responded. Each of these cases is a clash ofcultural, heritage and economic interests. Who has the final vote - culture or economy? E.Mitrofanova: Each case requires a specific approach. My observations and experience show that we listen to UNESCO. If you remember, the problem of Lake Baikal and the pipeline, which was to be laid, in the end it was pushed by 400 kilometers, and it was the right decision. Now there is a problem with the Altai Mountains, with the sacred UkokPlateau through which allegedly a pipe to China is to take place. Now the project has slowed down, nothing had been started, nothing had been touched, yet there were only discussions. And, apparently, this pipeline will go the other way, and Altai won’t be affected in any way. As for Komi, there really is a lot of controversy, there is a gold mine. They are on the border of the site, so they will be withdrawn from the World Heritage List, and on the other hand another 150,000 hectares of land will be added with unique forests. UNESCO debates are usually very long. Letters that members of the public write to the Organization, either arrive late, or don’t describe the situation correctly, but they tend to grasp the true essence of the matter, victory is obtained together. As for St.Petersburg - it seems to me, and the local community, and UNESCO played a crucial role in the construction of "Ohta-Center." As far as I know, there are projects involving the construction of "Lahta-Center”," but that's another story, it will be located at the entrance to St. Petersburg and can make the city more beautiful. The bay and the sea entrance in St. Petersburg can’t be seen, there is the port, many cranes - in general, the city doesn’t look beautiful there, and the complex can decorate it. But that's another story; the construction does not affect the historic center. K.Kosachev: You talked about the role of the public. As a public official I will say one word in defense of the State. In May, a new Law came into force, which significantly increases the amount of fines for violation of the rules of protection of historical and cultural monuments, in particular the monuments included in the UNESCO WH List, the maximum amount of fines is 60 million rubles. It is clear that the money can’t appreciate this kind of damage, but, nevertheless, the trend of tightening legislation related to the protection of natural heritage sites, is a modern Russian tendency, and, in my opinion, that's good. Since we started talking about money,I have a question about the budget of UNESCO. November 2011 – everyone probably remembers the history of the admission of Palestine, when 107 member countries voted "for", 14 "against", despite the very rough U.S. position. After that, the U.S. had suspended payment of its contribution to the organization, which was a fifth, or a fourth of the budget. E.Mitrofanova: Yes, 22 percent. K.Kosachev: And what happened then? Did UNESCO have a major set-back or was the organization able to deal with the budget crisis? How big is Russia's contribution to the UNESCO budget, what happened to it when UNESCO had to compensate for the loss? E.Mitrofanova: It was a very sad story for UNESCO, when the United States, the fee of which is 22 percent, refused to pay. In my opinion, Americans must decide for themselves, whether they want to stay in the organization or not. When you're paying 22 percent, you have a special responsibility;it’s not 2 or 3 percent. The Obama administration is trying toobtain money through the Congress for UNESCO funding, but so far it hasn’t worked out very well. UNESCO obviously had a set-back, of course, the deficit is felt in many ways. But, nevertheless, UNESCO has approximately the same level of extra-budgetary funding, so the UNESCOs activities will not be terminated. Some programs will be cut. Of course, such an organization without the United States ceases to be global, and, in my opinion, now UNESCO is needed more than ever, it is a dialogue platform for world culture, for tolerance and dialogue between cultures. There is no such other organization in the UN system. Of course, everything can be rearranged, but our organization is already living it. Contributions from Russia are around 2.5 percent of the Budget of the Organization, their size, as well as contributions from other countries, do not change, because the United States are members of the Organization. They just lose their right to vote in the UNESCO General Conference. K.Kosachev: UNESCO s activities are diverse around the world and in our country as well. I've heard that there are so-called UNESCO Chairs in Russia. For nearly two decades the project "UNESCO Associated Schools" is being implemented. What is it? E.Mitrofanova: UNESCO Chair is usually a real chair in different universities, which in addition to what they do, take the perspective of UNESCO in relation to human rights, sustainable development, World Heritage. Whatis so good about them? It’s an international network. UNESCO Chair can communicate, work together with other UNESCO Chairs in any country of the world. Their strength is in the network. Associated Schools are pretty much the same thing. Each associated school chooses a set of questions, and then they work on them, there are questions of sustainable development, ecology, World Heritage. Schools, too, are in a closed network, they can exchange students,kids can go somewhere and learn something. It’s a very powerful thing. K.Kosachev: While presenting you I forgot to mention another important fact of your career: more than five years, you were the Head of the Russian Center for International Scientific and Cultural Cooperation under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs - Roszarubezhcentre, which had evolved into Rosstrudnichestvo. A special thanksto you for the fact that this system remained and was transferred from the past to the future. Do you recall the past with pleasure? E.Mitrofanova: I am happy to remember it. When one has money, one can do something, but when one has no money, he needslots of creativity, with which we have tried to compensate for the lack of normal financing. K.Kosachev: You did it. Thank you. Today with us was EleonoraV.Mitrofanova, more than five years of supervised Roszarubezhtcentre, in addition to that, she was an auditor of the Accounting Chamber, the First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, and now she is Ambassador, Russia's Permanent Delegate to UNESCO. Thank you very much, and good luck with your future projects that you’ve told us about. With you, as always, was I,Konstantin Kosachev, Head of the Russian Cooperation, SpecialRepresentative of the President of the Russian Federation for relations with the CIS Member States. Watch and discuss the program with us, but most importantly - be with us. Until we meet again!