Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks at the 38th session of the UNESCO General Conference, Paris, November 6, 2015
Mr President of the General Conference,
Ladies and gentlemen,
This year marks the 70th anniversary of UNESCO – the world’s leading organisation in the sphere of humanitarian cooperation – and is full of significant dates for all. World War II – the bloodiest and the most destructive conflict in human history – ended 70 years ago. For such a tragedy to never happen again, a historic decision to establish the United Nations was made. Back then, the participating states of the anti-Hitler coalition were able to rise above their ambitions and differences and reach a compromise in the interests of creating a system of international security, which, as President Putin noted, has saved the world from major conflicts.
Seven decades ago, such a constructive philosophy of cooperation was in demand. It is likewise in demand today, and must remain our key benchmark. International relations have entered the transition phase caused by an objective process of a new polycentric world order taking shape, which reflects the geographic, economic and civilisational diversity of the modern world, the identity of the peoples, and their natural desire to determine their own destiny. This process is not an easy one, and is accompanied by increasing instability in world affairs, increased competition in all areas, including socioeconomic development models and value systems.
In such circumstances, it is imperative to pay special attention to preventing the deepening of inter-civilisational and interfaith faults, and build broad-based universal partnership, which is an essential component of a positive and forward-looking international agenda. I would like to add to what Director-General Irina Bokova said in her opening remarks, as she quoted Leo Tolstoy. The great Russian writer and thinker saw real prospects for humanity in getting rid of violence, lies and hypocrisy, and improving human morality.
In this regard, the importance of UNESCO cannot be overestimated. It has established itself as a reliable humanitarian bulwark of global architecture, and a universally recognised forum for protecting our spiritual and cultural heritage. We can say that the hopes of the participants of the first session of UNESCO’s General Conference, who hoped that UNESCO would play a noble role in forming the intellectual and moral conditions necessary to ensure the efficient operation of the entire UN system, have come true.
Today, additionally, UNESCO’s goal is to strengthen the atmosphere of trust and mutual understanding between nations and peoples, to promote enduring moral values common to all the major world religions and cultures. We look forward to its active participation in combating intolerance, nationalism and discrimination. It is imperative to do our best to encourage a mutually respectful, inter-civilisational, inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue.
A surge in terrorism and violent extremism in the Middle East and North Africa, where the ISIS group and the like are committing mass killings of civilians, desecrating Islam and carrying out aggression against all religions, causes major concern. There has been a mass exodus of Christians from the region, which is fraught with the destruction of the historical inter-confessional balance, and inter-religious coexistence in the Middle East. In many respects, it is the result of weakened or destroyed, including with the help of external intervention, public institutions in a number of countries of the region, and irresponsible geopolitical engineering attempts to impose someone’s plans on foreign nations without accounting for their traditions, history and cultural legacy.
When priceless monuments of world civilisations – be they in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan or Kosovo – are barbarously destroyed, the need for collective efforts to preserve human culture becomes particularly acute. To do so, there is the legal framework – the 1954 UN Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. As you may be aware, this document uses the ideas of our compatriot Nicholas Roerich, which were included in the first multilateral act in this sphere drafted 80 years ago. After the barbarians are expelled from the territories that are home to world heritage sites, UNESCO should send its missions there to assess the damage and draft plans to rebuild valuable religious and cultural sites.
UNESCO's competence can also be used for implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which was adopted in September in New York and which outlines new, ambitious sustainable development goals, including in the sphere of education and culture.
Russia is one of UNESCO’s most active members and participates in all of its programmes in the sphere of education, natural and social sciences, and communications. Russia’s role as a contributor to world culture, and its centuries-old experience with the coexistence of ethnic groups and religions, presuppose its special responsibility in mobilising collective efforts to address the major challenges facing UNESCO.
These efforts are being undermined by the practice of discrimination, recently adopted by individual states, against personalities in culture and art, journalists, and bans on importing exhibits, not to mention the removal of the monuments to the heroes of World War II in “politically correct” Europe amid the eloquent silence of Western leaders, as if our continent hasn’t experienced the horrors of Nazism, and as if the Nuremberg tribunal never took place.
Politicising humanitarian relations is unacceptable. We consider the attempts to gamble on UNESCO’s humanitarian activities to address unilateral political problems extremely dangerous, as do some of our colleagues, who, by hook or crook, are promoting Kosovo’s membership in flagrant violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1244.
We are also concerned by multiplying facts about actions taken by certain states to obstruct the use of the right to intellectual communication. We propose adopting an international document to support the free nature of exchanges and cooperation in culture, arts, science and education – in full accordance with the goals and values of our organisation, which was established to promote peace and security by encouraging cooperation in the spheres of its competence.