6 October 2011

Closing speech by H.E. Ms Eleonora Valentinovna Mitrofanova Chair of the Executive Board of UNESCO, Permanent Delegate of the Russian Federation to UNESCO


Dear colleagues and friends, Before starting my speech in the traditional tone, I would like to thank you most sincerely for your words of confidence and recognition of my quite modest contribution to the work of the Executive Board of UNESCO, for which I am indebted to many of you personally and on the whole to everyone who has assisted in the work of the Board over the last two years. I am very touched and certain that I will have further opportunities to express my gratitude for your assistance and support and to acknowledge your constructive approach and flexibility in advancing our joint undertakings. Distinguished Members of the Executive Board, Mr President of the General Conference, Madam Director-General, Ladies and Gentlemen, There is a time for everything. You all know this saying very well, just as you are well aware that time is money. For me personally, as for anybody with a financial past, these postulates have a very practical significance. Two years have passed. I shall take the liberty of saying that the time has come to “gather up the stones”, learning lessons from all the events which have taken place over this period, and look towards the future. Two years ago we set ourselves a series of goals to implement a highly diversified policy for our Organization. Today I would like to note that with the exception of a few minor failures, which are inevitable in the course of any progressive process, almost all the tasks we set have been accomplished which can be considered an overall success. We can safely say that we have achieved significant progress in our common aspiration to reform UNESCO and the work of its governing bodies. And this at a time when the Executive Board, and indeed UNESCO as a whole, had the task of strengthening trust, tolerance and mutual understanding in society in the complicated conditions of not only a world financial crisis but also an ethical and intellectual crisis, a crisis of confidence. Without exaggeration, the 2010-2011 biennium has been a watershed defining the course of world events. These have been a complicated two years for each individual country or region and for the entire world community. The never-ending sequence of unprecedented natural disasters – fatal and devastating earthquakes, floods, fires, droughts, tsunamis, right up to the recent typhoons in South-East Asia and yesterday’s floods in Thailand – have invariably demanded a large-scale mobilization of efforts and deep solidarity. The series of global crises – and I think a heightening of the financial/economic crisis is still to come – serious nuclear danger, terrorist attacks, deadly ecological disasters and air crashes have left nobody indifferent. The world has managed to undergo the most serious changes of a social, political, economic and cultural nature. First and foremost it is impossible not to point to what is happening in the Middle East. These changes have affected many areas of human activity directly related to UNESCO’s fields of competence. UNESCO itself has been and is still undergoing a process of reform and tough restructuring. Nevertheless, UNESCO, ever devoted to its ideals, has fully demonstrated its energy and readiness over these two years to react quickly to the challenges of a swiftly changing modern world. For its part, the Executive Board has assisted in reinforcing the viability of the Organization in its efforts to overcome challenges of this kind. The well-coordinated work carried out by the UNESCO Secretariat deserves special praise. This is and has been a worthy form of partnership between the UNESCO Member States, the Secretariat and other stakeholders especially as regards guiding the Organization’s action in circumstances of limited resources. In this connection, as Chair of the Board and on behalf of the Member States, I cannot fail to mention the special role played by the Director-General whose appointment exactly two years ago serves, among other things, as an important signal of confidence in all the women of the world. Thanks to her energetic actions, a clear tendency has taken shape today to strengthen the significance and visibility of our Organization principally as an initiator of positive changes in a society based on the principles of humanism. Distinguished colleagues, Profoundly and exclusively dedicated to the noble mission of UNESCO, the Executive Board in conjunction with the Director-General has been striving ceaselessly to direct its activity towards the achievement of the goals laid down in the United Nations Millennium Declaration, and especially the goals of the global “Education for All” programme. A whole series of events in which I have had occasion to participate in the performance of my duty has furthered this cause. I am referring to international conferences such as the UNESCO Future Forum on the theme of gender equality which took place in Greece, the first-ever World Conference on Early Childhood Care and Education, held in Moscow, and the meeting of the regular session of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris. I am also thinking of the official launch of the International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures, the International Year of Youth and the International Year of Chemistry, as proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly. As is well known, the United Nations has assigned UNESCO the coordinating role with respect to these events. A number of events dedicated to the celebration of dates important for the whole of humanity have also required my direct participation. These have included among others the 65th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, the 65th anniversary of the foundation of UNESCO and the 50th anniversary of the first manned flight into space; also, very soon, the 10th anniversary of the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity. What is more, I have been able to visit several countries and exchange opinions on urgent issues with a series of world leaders, heads of state and government. I have had the honour of taking part in round tables, high panels and international award ceremonies, such as, for instance, the Fйlix Houphouлt-Boigny Peace Prize. It is also worth mentioning that UNESCO established the first-ever medal for the contributions to the development of nanoscience and nanotechnologies. Furthermore, I have been afforded the opportunity to meet UNESCO Goodwill Ambassadors and Artists for Peace, other prominent scholars and political, cultural and public figures of world significance. Finally, I shared with you the honour of welcoming to this meeting room Her Royal Highness Princess Marie of Denmark as well as Prince Faisal bin Abdullah bin Mohammad Al Saud, the Minister of Education of Saudi Arabia, and Sebastiбn Piсera, President of Chile. The visits to the Board of such high-level guests emphasized once again the leading role played by UNESCO in its fields of competence with regard to strengthening the principles of democracy, equality, security and stability in the world. Only yesterday we recommended to the General Conference by a majority vote to admit Palestine to full UNESCO membership. Our Organization has been the first within the United Nations system to take this historic step, satisfying the request for admission first submitted in 1989. In doing so UNESCO is giving Palestine the right to work on an equal basis on various humanitarian projects, essential both with respect to a settlement in the Middle East and the achievement of international development goals in the region. Ladies and Gentlemen, By way of summing up the above, I cannot fail to draw attention once more to the great honour paid first and foremost to my country by the Members of the Board in appointing me to this important post, acknowledging the indisputable contribution my country has made to the diverse activities of the Organization. Following its first-time leadership of the Executive Board of UNESCO, the Russian Federation will continue to express its commitment to and active, comprehensive support of its values and priorities. A clear example of this will, of course, be the regular session of the World Heritage Committee to be held next year in Saint Petersburg and chaired by the Russian Federation. As the Permanent Delegate of the Russian Federation, it is a particular pleasure for me to note the high level of cooperation between UNESCO and my country. I am especially pleased that the name of UNESCO has been associated with many memorable anniversaries in the course of these two years, including those linked with the names of famous Russian creative artists, my great compatriots: Gogol, Tolstoy, Chekhov and Tchaikovsky. Incidentally, on 11 November this year Russia will be celebrating the 300th anniversary of the birth of the great scholar and educator Mikhail Lomonosov who as early as the eighteenth century was already defending the idea of an education reconciling science and religion and accessible to all, irrespective of origin. This is truly a significant date for world science, education and art and one which UNESCO will be celebrating. Distinguished colleagues, On the one hand I have real pleasure in realizing that our activities are, have been and will continue to be constructive and successful. On the other hand you will, of course, understand the degree of satisfaction I feel in concluding my term of office regarding the successful implementation of the UNESCO programme by increasing the efficiency of the Board’s own activities and working methods. After taking up office in November 2009, I set myself the goal of doing all within my powers to achieve progress in this respect. I began work on modernizing the activities of the Board with the intention that it should keep up with the times. Measures were taken to introduce experimental pilot working methods entailing a significant reduction in the volumes of documentation and the optimization of information technology. I shall leave it to you to decide whether to call them “paper light”, “paperless” or “paper-smart”. This also included a rationalization of the agenda, careful long-term planning with respect to the publication of documents, control of hospitality expenses, limiting overtime, and so on. This also helps UNESCO to make a genuine contribution to preserving the ecological balance of the planet. I am particularly pleased to note that thanks to all the above-mentioned measures, the Board’s budgetary position according to the situation at the close of the current biennium shows a correspondence between expenditure and planned indicators. I shall also note that although this is just the beginning, the Board’s sessions kept to the agenda and within the time-limit for the first time in recent years, finishing their work on time. I did not, of course, achieve everything that was planned. To my regret, for instance, the challenge of adopting a more business-oriented approach involving discussion by Board members of all or most key issues in the period between sessions has not been met, even though this would allow us to make use of less time-consuming procedures in the course of the actual sessions, thereby saving valuable time by avoiding duplication between the debates and the preparation of draft documents. In this regard the work of the Executive Board’s Ad Hoc Working Group on the Independent External Evaluation of UNESCO has been very instructive. As regards the Executive Board’s thematic debate, it seems sufficient to hold no more than one such debate in the course of a biennium on the most relevant topic selected well in advance. I shall make no secret of the fact that for me these years have been filled with an enormous amount of both personal and professional responsibility and experience. What was important for me was not so much to manage to do everything at any cost, as to initiate a process; to present and disseminate certain ideas in a competent manner; to be understood and accepted; to pass on the baton with dignity; and in future to be always ready to introduce something that is constructively new. Taking into account the experience of the past, I can look to the future with a great deal of optimism. Dear friends, I say “friends” in so far as I have managed to become good friends with many of you, establishing relationships based on true friendship. I have had the pleasure of meeting many interesting people and outstanding individuals directing the full force of their talent towards the noble goal of achieving UNESCO ideals. We have shared the burden of preparing and holding the sessions of the Board and the General Conference as close companions. We have worked together to consolidate UNESCO’s leading role in its fields of competence. To transform UNESCO into the genuine intellectual leader among the agencies of the United Nations system has been and remains our collective aspiration. In this connection I should like to make mention of the high standard of your statements, the importance of the opinions you have expressed, the relevance of your questions and your ability to work in a team. I am sincerely grateful to you for the support you have shown for the initiatives I have advanced. I particularly wish to emphasize that during my time as Chair I have been fortunate to work in close cooperation with each of you in directing the activity of the Board towards the search for new approaches aimed at promoting peace and dialogue. A bad peace is always better than a good war. A compromise resolution is better than an entrenched stand-off. UNESCO’s traditional approach of searching for decisions based on consensus must prevail. At this point I would like to thank and congratulate the Members of the Board and in particular the chairs and members of the working groups dealing with sensitive, so called “hot” topics. The atmosphere of mutual understanding and respect in which a constructive spirit of cooperation prevailed is testimony to the success of their effective work. I would also like to address my gratitude to the chair, members and observers of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Independent External Evaluation of UNESCO for their well-grounded critical evaluation of the Board’s working methods and suggestions for their optimization. Each area of work accomplished demanded from us all a skilful combination of time, energy, flexibility, determination and cohesion in order to achieve tangible and mutually acceptable results. In this connection the vital contribution to the work of our body on the part of the members of the Bureau – the Vice-Chairs of the Board and the chairs of the commissions and committees – warrants a high degree of praise. Remaining objective right to the end means not forgetting to mention the role of the temporary chairs. The success of the Board’s activities was also in no small part dependent on the role of the chairs of the regional groups, which I also wish to record. I am certain that you will share my pleasure in expressing gratitude to the President of the General Conference for his wise and inspiring advice and observations. Finally, I wish to emphasize in particular the high level of professionalism of all the UNESCO colleagues who have taken part in the work of the Board’s sessions. First and foremost, allow me on your behalf to attest profound gratitude to the Director-General Irina Bokova for her ceaseless, fruitful cooperation with the governing bodies of UNESCO and her limitless devotion to their activities. Perhaps this biennium has proved hardest of all for her. We sincerely wish that good fortune and success accompany you henceforth, dear Irina, in this difficult but noble walk of life. Beyond doubt this also relates to the Deputy Director-General, and to all the members of UNESCO’s senior management team. I wish to express my special gratitude to Michael Millward, the Secretary of the Executive Board, his deputy Karima Bekri-Lisner and the selfless members of his team Claudette Delorme, Patricia Johnston, Mercedes Torcat, Michee Detinho and Alain Haziza. The work of all the secretaries of the Board’s subsidiary bodies, as well as of each dedicated member of their teams is, without exception, truly worthy of individual praise. I am also very grateful to the translators and interpreters, minute-writers, restaurant and switchboard staff, technicians and conference room clerks. I would like to conclude by expressing my extreme gratitude to my personal assistant, Dulat Kasymov, for his impeccable, highly professional and responsible service. Distinguished colleagues, This, the Board’s last session of the biennium, signifies neither a conclusion nor a suspension of its activity. Its term of office extends to the forthcoming 36th session of the General Conference. It goes without saying that active participation in the work of its commissions and committees from all Members of the Board, without exception, will be more than welcome. As the Board’s serving Chair, I shall not fail to take part, on its behalf, in all the important events of the Organization’s supreme governing body . In particular this relates to the direct constitutional obligation of the Board with respect to accountability for its work during the biennium before the General Conference. In this connection I wish to inform you that I shall definitely be engaging in consultation with the members of the Bureau of the Board to prepare a report on the activity of our body. At the end of the General Conference I shall relinquish my authority with a feeling of duty done in order to join you in congratulating my successor to whom I shall gladly pass the wealth of experience I have amassed over two years in this post. This does not mean that I am leaving UNESCO as there is much which maintains the link. I shall continue my activity as Permanent Delegate of the Russian Federation and shall be happy in this capacity to continue to make as great a contribution as I can to the activity of UNESCO and its governing bodies. And now, dear colleagues and friends, before officially declaring this current session closed, allow me to present you with a symbolic gift as a token of gratitude for your cooperation and support: an anthology of selected Russian classics – as a reminder of our work together. I also invite the members of our round table to have our “family” photograph taken in the foyer of the plenary meeting room. I wish each of you and the entire Executive Board fruitful work in the future in the name of the noble mission of UNESCO. Peace be with us all and success in all our undertakings! Ladies and Gentlemen, I declare the 187th session of the UNESCO Executive Board closed.