Speech by Ms Olga Vasilieva, the head of the Russian delegation at the 39th session of UNESCO General Conference

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Mr Chairperson,

Madam Director-General,


The modern world is undergoing rapid changes. As President of Russia Vladimir Putin said recently “many past recipes for global governance, overcoming conflicts as well as natural contradictions are no longer applicable, they often fail, and new ones have not been worked out yet”. Under the circumstances UNESCO’s mandate on “building peace in the minds of men and women” is more in demand than ever before.

Our organisation is facing another round of renovation. In the process it must preserve its mission of the generator of the ideas of development and progress, reliable humanitarian foundation for global architecture, and a universally recognised forum for protecting spiritual and cultural heritage and promoting timeless moral values.

In this context there are great expectations as regards the new Director-General that we will appoint. Using this opportunity I would like to congratulate Audrey Azoulay on her victory in the Executive Board election. Our priority task is to help the new leadership of the UNESCO Secretariat to preserve with dignity the UNESCO historical mandate and consolidate its role as the intellectual leader in the UN system and an important participant in implementing the global sustainable development agenda.

We will be able to do this only by pooling our efforts and focusing on those areas where our organisation is indispensable and possesses more experience and competences than other international agencies. It is necessary to give up the temptation of using UNESCO to resolve short-term political tasks. Any politicisation of humanitarian ties is unacceptable. It is vital to prove one’s loyalty to UNESCO by deeds, without forgetting to pay charter contributions to its budget.

In the modern world we can only have a shared future. There is no individual future. A creative unifying agenda based on the balance of interests and respect for cultural and civilisational diversity is now more essential than ever before.

This respect is developed from childhood in a family that bears the main responsibility for raising children as a natural and the most important cell of society. At the same time, educational institutions are becoming inalienable and major assistants of states in countering terrorism and extremism, xenophobia, intolerance and discrimination. The system of education and upbringing should be oriented to asserting universal moral and humanitarian values, principles of respect and non-violence, patriotic convictions and the psychology of comradeship, cooperation and mutual assistance in the minds of the younger generation. A network of associated schools is allotted a major role in this respect. The greater their number, the more young people will cherish UNESCO ideals and the more they will work for building a peaceful sustainable future.

Our organisation cannot be a passive onlooker when its normative acts are violated and its member states become examples of extremist behaviour. I am referring to the Convention against Discrimination in Education, which has been crudely violated by the adoption of the Law on Education in Ukraine. It can only be characterised as linguistic racism.

It is in our common interests to focus efforts on such major areas as pre-school and vocational education, the inclusive environment in educational institutions and training of teachers for all levels of education. We would like to draw special attention to the UNITWIN/UNESCO Chairs Programme. Recently we celebrated the anniversary of this large-scale programme that unites over 700 universities around the world.

We believe UNESCO should work to create a powerful teaching potential in Africa, paying special attention to the promotion of the North-South-South partnership in order to improve programmes providing grants to students from the developing countries majoring in education.

Natural sciences are a major area in UNESCO activities. We believe the international programme on fundamental sciences requires more support and consolidation as an inalienable part of the UNESCO mandate. In perspective, we link the programme’s development with a search for new forms of cooperation and do not rule out its closer alignment with other programmes. This year the Russian Federation proposed declaring 2019 the International Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements. We hope the UNESCO General Conference will support this initiative.

I would like to say a few words about one more urgent task facing UNESCO, notably, the protection of world cultural heritage. The UN Security Council adopted the historic resolution 2347 on this issue. Russia is taking an active part in attaining the resolution’s goals. We intend to develop cooperation with UNESCO in this area, for instance in implementing the memorandum of understanding on the protection and restoration of cultural treasures in conflict zones, in particular in the Middle East.

I am confident our organisation cannot remain indifferent as the civilised Europe shuts its eyes to manifestations of neo-Nazism, when its politicians condone the growth of nationalism and allow the destruction of monuments to the liberators of the continent and heroes of World War II, the victory in which created the UN foundation. We believe UNESCO should pay primary attention to this problem and create a legal framework for preventing such actions.

Regrettably, humanity has repeatedly paid too high a price for forgetting the lessons of history and a lax interpretation of the historical truth. If we do not want to allow the alienation of countries and peoples and the appearance of new dividing lines, our duty is to protect the truth and uphold the feats, dignity and reputation of the living and the dead. Otherwise, the aspirations of the UNESCO founding fathers will remain unrealised dreams.

Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation