New Bulgarian UNESCO Director Bokova and the Clash of Civilizations

Novinite Insider » EDITORIAL | Author: Ivan Dikov |September 23, 2009, Wednesday // 01:49
Bulgaria: New Bulgarian UNESCO Director Bokova and the Clash of Civilizations

Bulgaria's acting Ambassador to France, Irina Bokova, has been elected the new Director General of UNESCO!

This is, no doubt, an absolutely incredible achievement for a country like Bulgaria, and perhaps the best thing one can do here is to reiterate the words of Prime Minister Borisov, who said that this was "a huge recognition for Bulgaria". This is the sort of international success that Bulgaria probably won't have again in another 20 years or so.

In the first half of 2009, Bulgaria had its hopes up for the post of NATO Secretary General in the face of its bidder, former Foreign Minister (2001-2005), Solomon Passy. Passy did not get it but now another former Bulgarian Foreign Minister (1996-1997), Bokova, has secured another top international Director General position - that of the peace-loving and diversity nurturing UNESCO.

(By the way, having been a Foreign Minister is probably not the best thing on Bokova's record since she was part of the Videnov government - by popular opinion, the least successful of all cabinets in the last 20 years.)

So far the highest-ranking Bulgarians in international organizations have been EU Commissioner, Meglena Kuneva, and Deputy World Bank Chair, Kristalina Georgieva. Now these ladies are joined by Bokova - the first woman (and the first Eastern European, for that matter) to head UNESCO.

Unfortunately, Bokova's election as the UNESCO head did not go unspoiled. Shortly after she beat Faruq Hosni - Egypt's Culture Minister seen as the candidate of the Arab states, Africa, and the Third World, and opposed by Israel over alleged anti-Semitism, Bokova's election has been slammed by Egyptian intellectuals as an epitome of the "clash of civilizations".

Their claims go that the "Jewish lobby" has led a conspiracy together with the "North", i.e. the West, in order to destroy the chances of Hosni, who is supposed to stand for the Arab states, the African states, and the Third World in general, of heading UNESCO.

Now, one would say, why pay attention to the comments of those intellectuals, who do not express the official position of some state? This is exactly why. The Egyptian state probably won't go ahead to denounce Bokova's election as an exacerbation of the "clash of civilizations" but the very fact that leading intellectuals in Egypt did that is pretty indicative of how Bulgaria's Bokova might be viewed in much of those states where the populations see her election as the product of some sort of a - real or imagined - "Jewish-Western conspiracy". Unluckily, this is certainly not a good start for Bokova.

Israel's Foreign Ministry was quick to express formally its satisfaction with Bokova's election, and the country might have used its influence to support her against the Egyptian candidate that it did not favor. Yet, such a move is no different from the way states generally approach any other matter in international affairs, and presenting this as some kind of conspiracy seems like an extrapolation of the Middle East Conflict between the Arab states and Israel, rather than like a fair description of how things work in international dealings.

Huntington's bombastic thesis about the "clash of civilizations" is a pretty questionable and controversial one but apparently it can be used for radical rhetoric on both sides of the imagined "the West" vs. "the Rest" divide.

What is more, the fact that your candidate - in this case Egypt's - lost the race does not seem to justify invoking and spreading visions of apocalyptic conspiracies and scenarios to destroy your kind, group, and region.

Compared to Bulgaria, Egypt is a lot larger, more powerful, and more influential state, which seeks to be viewed as a representative of large-scale groupings of the underprivileged and downtrodden - the Arab, African, and Third World states. So all that should suffice for its candidate to get it, the critics' logic goes.

What about states like Bulgaria? It is also a representative of a region, and a rather underprivileged one historically - Eastern Europe, but it and its cultural region are a lot smaller and less powerful than those of Egypt's bidder. So according to the logic of the critics of Bokova's election any other candidate but the one they favor would be spurring a clash of civilizations fueled by a Jewish-led world conspiracy.

Bokova was quick to declare that she did not believe in a "clash of civilizations" (I am with her on this one); she has issued calls for a new humanism and cultural diversity. She now faces the really tough job to bridge to those who, unlike her, actually believe in a "clash of civilizations" (thus potentially fueling it) or in world conspiracies (especially the ones led by Jews), and really try to get her message across.

In the meantime, for Bulgaria her election is an indisputable success of mammoth proportions. It does not really matter if she got the UNESCO top job through some big time international haggling - I can't think of an international organization where this is not the case. Let's just hope she's gonna do a good job.

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Tags: Irina Bokova, UNESCO, clash of civilizations, conspiracy, Jews, Egypt, intellectuals
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