On 15 September, UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, held several meetings with European Union officials to strengthen cooperation for the protection of culture and education in emergency situations.
The Director-General took part in a Public Hearing at the European Parliament, chaired by MEP Ms Silvia Costa, on the “role of UNESCO for the protection and promotion of cultural diversity,” organized by the Committee on Culture and Education of the European Parliament.
The Director-General highlighted UNESCO’s cooperation with the European Union, particularly in the fight against illicit trafficking, the protection of cultural heritage and the response to emergency situations.
“With the support of the European Union, UNESCO is working to bring education in refugee camps in Jordan, in Syria and in Iraq to support young populations, who are extremely vulnerable and easy targets of criminal groups,” said the Director-General, highlighting that “I have seen the impact on these programmes on the ground, these are the projects we can duplicate and scale up.”
The Hearing coincided with the 10th anniversary of UNESCO’s 2005 Convention on the Promotion and Protection of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, one of UNESCO’s most important contributions for the protection of human rights and for building an open citizenship in a globalized world.
“It is this positive vision of cultural diversity that we must all reaffirm today, in the face of the great challenges that shook Europe and the world – the cultural cleansing in the Middle East, migration and refugees, the identity crisis in many societies,” said the Director-General. “This is a central element of the humanitarian and security crisis – the killing of people and the destruction of heritage are both part of the same strategy, which seeks to disintegrate the social fabric of societies. This is an integral part of the humanitarian and security crisis.”
On the same day, the Director-General met with Ms Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, to work on future venues of cooperation.
"Cultural diplomacy is an integral part of our common foreign policy" said the High Representative. The Director-General emphasized the need to focus also on education and culture to foster inclusion and open opportunities for youth in countries affected by crisis.
This vision was shared by Mr Christos Stylianides, European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management: "Education is the bridge between humanitarian and development programme".
Irina Bokova held a bilateral meeting with Mr Hahn, European Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy, to emphasize the need of a joint action to respond to the challenges of the Syria crisis -- "in face of global crisis, the response is global and goes beyond military action. UNESCO and the European Union have a lot in common to invest on education to open up opportunities." Commissioner Hahn notably insisted on the potential of culture and cultural heritage to bring new confidence and to create opportunities for youth in fragile situations.
Irina Bokova and Mr Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for Research and Science agreed on the potential of science diplomacy to build bridges among countries, notably "as technology grows, science will be more and more important for the development of societies and the EU and UNESCO have a lot of projects to build upon, from water cooperation to scientific education for girls and women.".
Irina Bokova also held a bilateral meeting with Mr Geert Bourgeois, Minister-President of the Flemish Government and longstanding partners of UNESCO, to renew joint commitment for the protection of cultural heritage under attack and the need to foster stronger messages of tolerance and mutual understanding "against all forces that seek to divide humanity".