Irina Bokova: Cultural Heritage Key for Bulgaria’s Tourism Strategy
Irina Bokova is a Bulgarian politician and diplomat, the Director-General of UNESCO. In 2013, she was re-elected for a second term as the head of the organization.
Bokova has been a Foreign Minister of Bulgaria (1996-1997) during the government of PM Zhan Videnov, as well as a former Ambassador of Bulgaria to France and to Monaco.
In Novninite's prestigious "Personality in the News 2013", she was elected top in the Politics category. We contacted Mrs. Bokova for a special interview.
Mrs. Bokova, the readers of Novinite.com and Novinite.bg elected you for “Personality in the News 2013” in the Politics category. Congratulations!
What were the main challenges for you in 2013?
2013 was a very important year for UNESCO because we had to prepare the long-term strategy for the next 8 years (2014 – 2022). As you may guess, in these turbulent and dynamic times for the international community, it is a difficult task.
Undoubtedly, one of the main difficulties was funding, where the United States no longer contributes to the annual budget of the organization. However, I believe we are now towards the end of this restructuring process and we have tried not to let it affect our fundamental goals and strategies.
What are the main challenges ahead of UNESCO in 2014?
2014 is the first year of my new term. This is very important for me, as I believe I won the elections in 2009 on the back of a vision for UNESCO – a humble vision for more humanism, which must be the basis for all efforts of the UN.
I believe that UNESCO’s mandate for the protection of tangible and intangible heritage, cultural diversity, education, and giving everyone the opportunity to have his or her unique culture acknowledged and respected, is very closely tied with this vision.
UNESCO was assigned several very important initiatives by the UN Secretary General, as a part of the “Education for All” movement, which we are leading.
We are also assigned to create an advisory board for the General Secretary. Not to even mention the extremely difficult issue of protecting cultural heritage in times of conflict.
All these questions are on my everyday list for 2014.
What must Bulgaria do in order to present its unique culture to the world and to become a more popular destination?
Bulgaria has 9 heritage sites in UNESCO's list – 7 cultural and 2 natural. It is very important how the country will incorporate those in its touristic strategy.
On the other hand, Bulgaria’s intangible cultural heritage is also very attractive and unique. There are new traditions currently nominated, such as the “martenitsas”, the Chiprovo carpets, and the “Kukeri festival” in Pernik. My goal is to incorporate a wider understanding of culture in our strategy.
In many countries, cultural and creative industries, festivals, crafts, cultural tourism, tangible and intangible heritage, generate many jobs and income. There are countries like Indonesia, Brazil, and China, which generate 8-12% of their GDP on these cultural industries. In that respect, Bulgaria has huge potential, and we will work to improve it further.
Which Bulgarian cultural sites follow to be incorporated into UNESCO’s heritage list?
I have been discussing this with several Bulgarian governments. As I am aware, Bulgaria has not nominated any new sites to be incorporated into UNESCO. We have created a preliminary list, in which Bulgaria features with several interesting sites – for example the Magura cave and the Neolithic monuments. There are also plans for extending the nomination of the Thracian Tombs in Kazanlak.
However, for the moment, Bulgaria has not presented concrete suggestions for the UNESCO list.
What are UNESCO’s main activities in poorer and developing countries?
The main one is education. UNESCO is a leader in fostering literacy, through the “Education for All” program. Our goal to facilitate access to education - to quality education.
Not less significant are our efforts in protecting biodiversity in such countries. In that respect, we utilize the “Man and the Biosphere” program.
You are an example of a truly successful Bulgarian. What is your message to young Bulgarians?
I think, first of all, young Bulgarians need to have the confidence and self-esteem that they represent a country with history, a present, and a future. I often witness uncertainty and doubt among Bulgarians, when there is no need for that. They must also feel part of a global world, to feel like global citizens.
The most important is for them to have values – values of education and knowledge, and to believe that they can achieve something in life.
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