It is my privilege today as Chairperson of the Executive Board, on behalf of its Member States, to pay tribute to the outstanding personality who presided over the destiny of UNESCO for 13 years and who dedicated his whole life to the promotion of intellectual cooperation in the fields of education, science, culture and communication.
Cher Directeur généralAmadou-Mahtar M’Bow ! Because your personal history is more extended than the most recent history of many countries, including independent Senegal; and because your life is much longer than the life of any international organization, please, allow me briefly to cast our minds almost a century back and follow your journey in parallel to the existence of UNESCO.
You were born 90 years ago, at the time of the very establishment of international order based on the League of Nations’ aspirations for world peace and security. The time when the prototype of our Organization – the International Institute of Intellectual Cooperation – was founded here in Paris.
Later, in the aftermath of the most murderous and devastating war in the history of humankind, during which you embarked on active service in the name of the values of liberty, fraternity, tolerance and non-discrimination, UNESCO was created “to construct the defences of peace”.
Then came the time when the ideals of “universal respect for justice, for the rule of law and for the human rights and fundamental freedoms” became a reality with the accession of former colonies to political sovereignty. Thus, the international community has since truly consisted of all the regions of the world. And you were among those who served your country, your people and the whole of Africa to win their own identity and their place among the nations. You clearly saw education and culture, as did the founding fathers of UNESCO, as having a vital role to play in preparing peoples to take joint responsibility for the peaceful development and harmonious coexistence of world societies.
This vision and force of character multiplied by your intelligent ambition to express the views and opinions of countries of the so-called Third World on development issues led you in 1966 to head the delegation of Senegal to the 14th session of the General Conference as Minister of Education and Culture and Chairman of the National Commission. In the same year, you were elected a member of the Executive Board and you should be thanked for your constant efforts to make Africa better known and understood by other continents.
A man of culture, you then became a man of cultures; through service to your country you succeeded in winning universal acceptance to serve the international community, as Director-General of UNESCO. Despite political and subsequent financial challenges, in that post you constantly worked for, and succeeded, in preserving UNESCO’s ideal of intellectual and moral solidarity and its unique nature as a meeting place and forum for discussion, where all decisions were taken on the basis of dialogue, mutual respect and consensus. Your daily task was to reinforce justice in the fields of competence of the Organization and reject the justification of force in order to achieve a happier and more secure future. During your two terms of office 160 nations, including 30 newcomers, were united in the same hope. Thus, UNESCO continued to grow in size and strength.
Director-General, it was also under your leadership for the first time that the UNESCO Secretariat was de facto internationalized and the geographical balance of its distribution equitably redressed. By always acting prudently and humanely, you preserved UNESCO’s cohesion, thus creating conditions for many exceptional international achievements. At that time more then 10 million people benefited directly from UNESCO’s literacy campaigns. Without UNESCO, what would have become of the temple of Borobudur? Who could have saved Venice and the other greatest treasures of the universal heritage?
UNESCO meetings and conferences were among the few venues where scientists and intellectuals from East, West, Nord and South could meet, exchange ideas and cooperate. As Permanent Delegate of the Russian Federation, I would like to underline the highly important progressive dimension of the mutual contribution established between UNESCO and my country, especially in the fields of the exact and natural sciences and of scientific and technological training.
I also particularly recall certain communication activities such as the direct teleconference between American and Soviet secondary-school children, organized under the auspices of UNESCO. Likewise, the UNESCO Courrier was the little window on unknown parts of the world. You know Nelson Mandela well and you know better than anyone that during his imprisonment, that publication was his only reading material and contact with the outside world.
Director-General, I should like especially to thank you for the dedicated and praiseworthy cooperation which you maintained without fail throughout your mandates with all Presidents of the General Conference, all my predecessors in the post of Chairperson of the Executive Board, all Board Members and the authorities of the host country.
When, in December last year, I had the chance to meet you in person during the celebration of the 65th anniversary of our Organization, I could see and feel for myself the value of a man whose action was intimately bound up with the main events of the past century and with the present.
After 1987, when you left UNESCO, you continued to struggle for the ideals of peace and human fellowship and to spread widely your significant life experience, which has been particularly inspiring for generations of young people. With your youthful spirit – you still pursue the cause of humanity.
Your past and present was and is an action for the benefit of individuals. It should rightly be considered as a part of the heritage and memory of UNESCO, and probably of the world, with the extreme diversity of mutually enriching cultures of which you were the untiring promoter.
Now, Director-General, please allow me to address my special thanks to the Association of Former UNESCO Staff Members, its President and all your former colleagues and friends – our institutional memory – with whom you shared a large part of your life and also devotion to the international service, and who organized today this International Symposium to celebrate your 90th birthday.
Ladies and Gentlemen, once upon a time on the well-known international stage in the modernized UNESCO conference room, which he had inaugurated in 1983, during the 116th session of the Executive Board, Director-General M’Bow pronounced the following words: “I have no doubt, on my travels, I shall again meet many of those who are here today. For that reason, as I leave you, I shall not say ‘goodbye’ to most of you but ‘au revoir’”.
Director-General, we are delighted to welcome you here again at UNESCO. Please rest assured that the course you once set and the wishes you express to us today will continue to be followed by many others.
We will certainly see you again on the eve of your 95th birthday, in 2015, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of UNESCO, when the entire international community will also assess the outcome of our collective commitment to the Internationally Agreed Development Goals. Thank you for always being with us and happy birthday again!