Taking this opportunity, I would like to convey to you President Vladimir Putin’s greetings on the occasion of our meeting dedicated to the 65th anniversary of our country's membership in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
Back in 1954, the Soviet Ambassador to the UK, Yakov Malik, signed the UNESCO Charter. At the same time, the Soviet republics of Belarus and Ukraine joined UNESCO as well. I’m delighted to welcome the representatives of the Republic of Belarus here.
The accession of the Soviet Union gave UNESCO a truly universal nature and expanded its capabilities in effectively addressing important international cultural and humanitarian issues. Today, our interaction with UNESCO remains an example of a mutually enriching partnership, which, in particular, can be seen from the results of the March 6 meeting between President Putin and UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay.
Cooperative creative work is particularly important now. Lately, the number of the attempts to politicise the activities of UNESCO and to use it to settle accounts with “undesirable” states has been on the rise. We run into this in sports and anti-doping, where fleeting considerations often prevail over Olympic ideals and the principles of fair play. The persistent “pushing through” of Kiev-promoted resolutions on Crimea, which have nothing to do with the actual situation on the peninsula, in the governing bodies of the organisation is also causing deep concern. I hope that UNESCO will take more active efforts in restoring the World Cultural Heritage sites in Syria, which were damaged by terrorists, similarly to the steps the organisation is taking in neighbouring Iraq. Of course, we look forward to the organisation adopting a principled stance regarding the discriminatory regulatory acts by Latvia and Ukraine in education.
We will continue to promote a unifying agenda in UNESCO. Our key priorities include building up efforts in education. Last December, the UNESCO Educational Programmes Committee was created at the commission.
Russia is a world leader in terms of the number of UNESCO associated schools and chairs. In September 2018, an international conference was held in Kazan to mark the 65th anniversary of the UNESCO Associated Schools Network. Kazan also hosted the Congress of Russian UNESCO Chairs last March, which was attended by UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay.
Traditionally, we maintain leading positions in scientific cooperation. The opening ceremony of the International Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements, which was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly on the initiative of our country, was held at UNESCO headquarters on January 29. Together with UNESCO, we are considering the establishment of the Dmitry Mendeleyev Annual Award for achievements in the fundamental sciences. An agreement between the Russian Government and UNESCO on establishing an International Competence Centre for Mining-Engineering Education at the St Petersburg Mining University came into force in January.
We continue to participate in preparing and implementing the organisation’s flagship projects, including the forthcoming United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, which will start in 2021.
This year marks 30 years since our accession to the 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of the World’s Cultural and Natural Heritage. We closely cooperate with the UNESCO World Heritage Centre both on issues of guaranteeing safety for existing sites and with the aim of promoting new applications. In July last year, the Bikin River Valley natural site was put on the list of World Heritage Sites. This year, Russia’s new application, Ancient Pskov Monuments, will be considered during the 43rd session of the World Heritage Committee in Baku. The Ministry of Culture and the Pskov administration have done great work to prepare it.
An election to the World Heritage Committee is due this year as well. We will spare no effort to achieve Russia’s return to this decision-making body after, unfortunately, an eight-year absence.
Last year, another Russian site, the 45th, the Mountainous Urals Biosphere Reserve, was added to the list of the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves. Our request for establishing another biosphere reserve, Lake Elton in the Volgograd Region, has received preliminary approval. It is to be approved by the Man and the Biosphere Programme International Coordinating Council in June this year.
The application to create the first Russian geopark, Yangan-Tau, in Bashkortostan was highly praised by the Council. We expect it to receive final approval before the end of this year.
We have made progress in promoting Russia’s cultural initiatives. In 2018, Russia and many other countries successfully hosted events dedicated to birthdays of outstanding representatives of Russian and world culture – Maxim Gorky, Ivan Turgenev, Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Marius Petipa. Their names were included in the UNESCO Important Days Calendar for 2018-2019. We certainly expect the birthdays of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Ivan Bunin and Ivan Krylov to be included in the Calendar for 2020-2021.
International Jazz Day in St Petersburg was a prominent event last year. Special gratitude goes to Igor Butman, a member of our Commission and the organiser and a participant of the festivities. The Kazan Forum in September last year, which was sponsored by UNESCO Special Envoy for Intercultural Dialogue Mintimer Shaimiev, who is here with us today, made a significant contribution to expanding dialogue between cultures. Thank you again!
New prospects for cooperation with UNESCO are opening up in bioethics. Academician Alexander Chuchalin was nominated to chair the reshuffled Russian Bioethics Committee at its inception meeting last August. I suggest that the Commission approve this candidate. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Academician Chuchalin on his appointment to the position of vice chairperson of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Bioethics Committee.
At the initiative of UNESCO's Director-General artificial intelligence is becoming a new priority at UNESCO. We expect the Russian Bioethics Committee to join in drafting a legal document regarding the ethical application of this technology.
I note with satisfaction the increased activities of Russian NGOs in UNESCO. Last year was marked by a milestone event – in November, Moscow hosted the 10th International Forum of NGOs in official partnership with UNESCO “Science as common good of humankind.” Last December the first ever Russian NGO – The Vernadsky Nongovernmental Ecological Foundation – was elected to the NGO-UNESCO Liaison Committee.
Currently the commission, in collaboration with professional associations of lawyers, is drafting a model statute for UNESCO clubs based on UNESCO recommendations.
I would like to thank Minister of Sport Pavel Kolobkov for his efforts in standing up to the basic provisions of the International Convention against Doping in Sport, on curbing the manipulation of this universal document through the introduction of non-consensus procedures for assessing its observance. I should also note the March 2 meeting, under UNESCO auspices, of the sport ministers of the nations participating in the 29th Winter Universiade 2019 in Krasnoyarsk.
We give much importance to marking the International Year of Indigenous Languages. A high-level conference “Preserving National Languages and Developing Linguistic Diversity in Cyberspace” will take place in Yakutsk this summer through the Russian Committee of the UNESCO Information for All Programme.
The International Programme for the Development of Communication calls for special attention, including in the context of increased pressure on Russian journalists abroad and restrictions on the free flow of information introduced under the far-fetched pretext of fighting “fake news.” It is important to continue to maintain our position on issues of guaranteeing safety for journalists, first of all in the areas of armed conflicts.
Russia remains a responsible participant in the process of reforming the Memory of the World programme, seeking to cleanse it of artificial politicisation.
Certainly, our multi-faceted cooperation with UNESCO is not limited to the areas I mentioned. I am convinced that we will be able to work together to expand it to new areas.
Significant work awaits us. This year in addition to the election to the World Heritage Committee we will have an election to the UNESCO Executive Board. I would like to express my gratitude to the members of the Commission who lend assistance in the form of information support for the electoral campaign.
In December last year there was major turnover in the Commission’s membership. I would like to wish the new members and those who have kept their positions successful, amiable and harmonious work. I would also like to extend best wishes to everyone on the anniversary of our Commission and on Easter.