Vladimir Makei: ‘Belarus in UNESCO: national development and global peace via humanism, culture and education’
<img class="imgr" alt="" src="http://www.belarus-magazine.by/belen/data/upimages/2009/0001-009-383.jpg"> [b]On May 12th, 2014, Belarus celebrated its 60th anniversary of UNESCO membership, with a large programme of events, including some by the National Commission for UNESCO Affairs, which would take place countrywide throughout the year. As part of the jubilee celebrations, UNESCO General Director, Irina Bokova, paid an official visit to Minsk.[/b]<br />The Chairman of the National Commission for UNESCO Affairs, Belarus’ Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vladimir Makei, tells the BelTA reporter about the origins of UNESCO membership, the most promising avenues of co-operation with this organisation and the interest shown by the global community in Mir Castle, Nesvizh and national customs.
The Chairman of the National Commission for UNESCO Affairs, Belarus’ Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vladimir Makei, tells the BelTA reporter about the origins of UNESCO membership, the most promising avenues of co-operation with this organisation and the interest shown by the global community in Mir Castle, Nesvizh and national customs.
[b][i]Mr. Makei, in 2010, UNESCO celebrated its 65th anniversary. What was the purpose of its establishment and what results have been achieved so far?[/b][/i]
Like the UN, UNESCO was founded in 1945 — after WWII, whose horrors inspired humanity to find ways to establish a truly global culture. Its founding charter reads: ‘Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defence of peace must be constructed’. These actually define the core purpose of the organisation; via co-operation in the fields of education, science and culture, with the latter promoting the strengthening of peace and security.
In the years since its existence, UNESCO has done much. It has contributed greatly to the fight against racial discrimination. Under the UNECO aegis, a group of scientists from all over the world have collected arguments to dispel the pseudo-scientific basis of racial discrimination. As a result, the word ‘race’ received a new meaning, and the scientists’ efforts were used to prepare a Convention Against Discrimination in Education — adopted by UNESCO in 1960, and this remains topical in our modern time.
Education has always been UNESCO’s priority: thanks to its efforts, the international community has acknowledged that it’s impossible to overcome poverty, hunger and disease without qualitative and affordable education. In line with the statistics, 16 percent of modern adults (around 776m people) are illiterate, while 75m children have no elementary education. In this respect, Africa and gender equity remain UNESCO’s global priorities. Its specialists aid poor countries in developing and conducting education policy, while spreading examples of advanced practices and study materials and assisting the development of technical and professional education programmes.
UNESCO is the only global organisation which oversees international cultural co-operation. In the years of its operation, a complex of regulatory documents has been prepared. These aim at the preservation of cultural heritage, the formation of global culture and the development of tolerance and respect for different forms of cultural identification. I think I won’t be mistaken in assuming that all UNESCO member-states proceed from these agreements in building up their state culture-related policies.
In 1952, the Universal Copyright Convention was adopted by UNESCO to protect the results of artistic activity. As a result, the well-known copyright sign — © — was introduced, while laying the foundation of the international system of intellectual property protection.
UNESCO was among the first to sound the alarm in connection to a non-control use of natural resources. In 1968, an international conference took place under its aegis, with the above problem high on the agenda for international co-operation. Several international scientific programmes are run as part of the organisation; these aim at the improvement of the assessment of the Earth’s resources and their management.
These comprise a share of UNESCO results. In the course of time, the organisation has turned into a laboratory of ideas and a norm-creating forum. It acts as a centre for information exchange and catalyses wide international humanitarian collaboration. UNESCO unites 195 states (two more than the UN’s 193) which is the best proof of the organisation’s importance.
[b][i]Belarus stood at the origins of the establishment of the UN. Why were Belarusians not among the first UNESCO members?[/b][/i]
Belarus joined UNESCO on May 12th, 1954 — almost simultaneously with the USSR and Ukraine. Political confrontation of the cold war played its role in the protraction of talks (of the Soviet republics’ joining UNESCO) for almost a decade. Despite its humanitarian mandate, UNESCO — like many other UN organisations — was involved in the conflict of two opposite ideologies: socialist and capitalist. These blocks had different approaches to the solution of international co-operation problems.
Indicatively, in the mid-1980s, the USA and the UK, unhappy with the strengthening of socialistic and some developing states within UNESCO, ceased their membership. Many years passed until they re-joined in 2003.
[b][i]What role does Belarus’ National Commission for UNESCO play?[/b][/i]
In line with the UNESCO Charter, national commissions for UNESCO affairs are to be set up in all its member states — to ensure domestic interaction of all parties interested in co-operation over the organisation’s activities. Following a governmental decision, these national commissions include representatives of state management bodies, educational, scientific and cultural establishments, in addition to non-state organisations and scientific and cultural figures. Commissions primarily aim to attract a state’s intellectual and scientific potential to fulfil UNESCO’s key mission: the strengthening of peace and security through collaboration in the field of education, culture and science.
Belarus’ first Commission for UNESCO Affairs was established in 1956 — following the decision of the BSSR Council of Ministers. It contributes to the realisation of UNESCO projects in the country, while attracting Belarusian state establishments and non-state organisations to participation into its programmes. In addition, the Commission helps establish contacts domestically and with foreign partners, through co-operation with foreign national commissions.
In 2014, owing to liaisons between Russian and Japanese national commissions, our Commission and the Belarusian scientific and educational society has celebrated the 200th jubilee (which is included into the UNESCO List of Memorable Dates) of Belarus-born Iosif Goshkevich — a diplomat, an expert in the East and a truly talented personality. Next year, Belarus will join the international community in celebrating the 250th birthday of Michal Kleofas Oginski. Belarusian, Lithuanian and Polish national commissions are working jointly to ensure a worthy response to this forthcoming jubilee.
In late 2013, the Belarus’ National Commission made a decision to structure its activity; it established thematic committees along UNESCO’s major activities. At the moment, our Commission has committees on education, culture, information, science, natural education, youth and UNESCO Clubs. We hope that the committees’ activities will enable us to greater expand possibilities in our work with the public. All members of the Commission are open to co-operation with everyone interested in promoting UNESCO values and expanding Belarus’ contribution into the organisation’s activity.
[b][i]What are the most exemplary examples of Belarus-UNESCO co-operation?[/b][/i]
I’d note that fruitful and practical co-operation has been observed during the whole period of Belarus’ membership. Not many know that UNESCO was the first international organisation to render Belarus international technical assistance to minimise the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster. A range of projects were undertaken in our country with UNESCO’s aid; those attracted international attention to Belarus’ problems and provided real help in their solution. Three social-rehabilitation centres for those affected by the disaster and immigrants were set up. In addition, special programmes were developed to teach schoolchildren in the contaminated areas. Another programme tackled the preservation and deactivation of state archives from the affected regions. Data was provided on the movement of radioactive particles across the country, which was of practical significance for the agricultural field. Their tracking is possible due to the established Chernobyl Research Ecological Network.
Interestingly, in 1983, Belarus hosted the 1st World Congress on Biosphere Reserves (as part of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere programme); this became recognition of our country’s contribution to the establishment and development of this programme.
In the 1980s, Belarusian higher educational establishments developed learning and teaching aids for schoolchildren, dealing with the role of biosphere reserves in nature production education, on the foundation of the Berezinsky Biosphere Reserve and the Belovezhskaya Pushcha. Belarusian specialists prepared scientific studies on ecological problems and the planning of river-based Belarusian cities. Scientists from the BSSR Academy of Sciences joined UNESCO experts in investigating the change of Belarusian flora under human influence, while studying the degree of people’s impact on the natural biosphere processes. During the times of collaboration, Belarusian scientists compiled a Red Book on rare and declining breeds.
In our times, the Man and the Biosphere is among the top UNESCO programmes. It aims to establish well-balanced relations between humankind and nature, and Belarus remains its active member. Our country was elected into the programme’s International Co-ordination Council (which oversees the World Network of Biosphere Reserves of 621 objects in 117 countries) for the period from 2011-2015.
I’d love to specially note that three nature protective territories in our Republic enjoy the status of ‘an international biosphere reserve’ and are a part of the world network: the Belovezhskaya Pushcha (a UNESCO World Heritage object), the Berezinsky Biosphere Reserve and the Zapadnoe (Western) Polesie Trans-border Reserve (a unique project realised jointly with Poland and Ukraine). Only twelve trans-border reserves exist in the world. Recognition of Belarus’ nature protective territories as international biosphere reserves indicates that our country progresses along the correct path, that of ensuring a well-balanced neighbourhood between people and nature.
In the field of humanitarian and social sciences, Belarus takes an active part in the work of UNESCO’s Bioethics programme — set up in 1993. Since 2006, the National Bioethical Committee was established at the Ministry of Health; jointly with the International Sakharov Ecological University and the UNESCO Chair on Environment and Management, it is actively promoting bioethical education among children and youth.
In my view, not only biology and medicine should meet ethical principles. Science on the whole must not contradict morals. UNESCO is an international venue for discussion of ethical aspects in the spheres of ecology, climate change and nanotechnologies. In November 2013, the 37th UNESCO General Conference session made a decision to conduct research regarding Internet ethics. The organisation does not put aside the most topical problems of our modern times, while Belarusian experts take an active part in discussions and the development of approaches to their solution.
[b][i]How does Belarus interact with UNESCO in the field of education?[/b][/i]
We’ve accumulated huge experience in this area, and numerous events have been realised jointly with UNESCO, enabling Belarusian specialists to get acquainted with the best Belarusian educational experience. Owing to liaisons with UNESCO, Belarus, jointly with Germany and China, is among the leaders in the field of professional-technical education and training. UNESCO specialists confirm the correctness of Belarus’ chosen path regarding the support of professional training establishments; this has helped us preserve and develop this vital educational activity. At present, all economically developed countries admit that efficient professional-technical education is an important element of economic growth and employment. In April 2013, Minsk hosted a major international conference: Professional Education Under Global Challenge Conditions. It gathered teachers and scientists from all over the globe to develop recommendations on further progress of this educational branch.
Use of IT in education is another sphere of co-operation. The UNESCO Institute of Information Technologies in Education (headquartered in Moscow) is the major partner of Belarusian establishments in this aspect. Belarusian schools — in particular UNESCO associated schools (there are over ten of them in Belarus now and the number continues to grow) — take part in the Institute’s Smart School of the Future project. The latter makes it possible to get a practical acquaintance with the work of foreign schools, and to learn more of their approach to the educational process (which uses advanced IT).
UNESCO also pays special attention to inclusive education which is very topical for Belarus as well. Educational approaches are being developed to train disabled children. In addition, conditions are created for them to receive fully fledged and qualitative education. As part of Belarus-UNESCO co-operation, a project has been realised in our country to develop special software for sound recording of text documents. Thanks to this programme, people with vision disorders can get acquainted with e-texts in Belarusian, Russian and English, which would significantly expand their educational possibilities. An e-collection of school curriculum materials is now ready, which covers Belarusian literature courses (for 9th-11th grade).
The University Twinning and Network Programme (a UNESCO chair) is also well developed in Belarus; it promotes the strengthening of inter-university co-operation across the globe and, consequently, science development. Seven UNESCO chairs are operational in Belarus, covering such topical issues as renewed energy sources, IT, law, environment, natural sciences, world culture, tolerance, human rights and democracy. A chair of professional education in the field of IT for disabled people is now being set up in the country.
[b][i]Are Belarus’ contacts with UNESCO in the field of culture fruitful?[/b][/i]
Co-operation in the issues of culture has been purposefully developing during the whole period of Belarus’ UNESCO membership. In the 1970s, the country raised a point on the importance of the study of Slavonic cultures all over the world. The Slavonic topic received international acknowledgement via the UNESCO publications: Belarusian scientists’ monograph on Frantsisk Skorina was published in English and French (as part of the Outstanding Figures of Slavonic Cultures series). Belarusian ethnographers and art experts took part in preparations of the Ancient Architecture and Sculpture of Slavonic Nations album.
In 1983, the Anthology of Belarusian Poetry was published in English and French and in 1982 Minsk hosted the Slavonic Cultures and Global Cultural Process scientific conference which gathered over 200 scientists from 23 countries.
At present, Belarus is an active participant of the international co-operation of Slavs, attracting over six hundred participants from 35 countries. Irina Bokova sent her address to that event.
Four Belarusian objects are included into the UNESCO World Heritage List, with the first of them joining in 1992. The Belarusian section of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha received this prestigious status after re-joining the Polish part (which was included into the List in 1979). Belarus and Poland jointly proposed to expand the Belovezhskaya Pushcha which is a world heritage object. This indicates that we successfully cope with the task of dealing with the preservation of this oldest European forest. Another trans-border object of world legacy is the Geodetic Struve Arc: a network of basic geodetic observation points which was laid in the 19th century and passes along the territory of ten states, spreading from Norway to the Ukrainian Black Sea. In 2000 and 2005, Mir Castle joined the List, in addition to the Radziwills’ Architectural, Residential and Cultural Complex in Nesvizh.
The status of a world heritage object embodies the recognition of its exclusiveness and significance for humanity. Experts thoroughly study state proposals, but not all of them receive support. On having an object joining the List, a state and its citizens take on the responsibilities of its preservation for future generations. Moreover, preservation does not mean conservation and insulation from public. Preservation is reasonable and careful use and, primarily, the opportunity to get acquainted with past legacy, while apprehending its role and meaning for the country’s history and culture. As many researchers note, the status of a world heritage legacy object automatically brings 30 percent more tourists, which creates additional economic possibilities for the area where a monument is situated.
Despite all the difficulties related to legacy preservation issues, this activity remains among the UNESCO priorities and the World Heritage List is ever expanding.
[b][i]Several years ago, Belarusian ‘Kolyady Tsars’ custom was included into UNESCO’s List of Intangible Heritage. Tell us more please.[/b][/i]
UNESCO pays a lot of attention to the protection of non-material legacy which embraces national cultural traditions, crafts and artistry. Although an international agreement in this field was signed in 2003, it has become actually universal — like the World Legacy Convention.
Our country boasts a unique intangible heritage and joining the UNESCO Convention on Protection of Intangible Cultural Heritage (adopted in 2003) has enabled us to organise work on its preservation. The fund — operational as part of the Convention — has allocated money to realise a project dealing with the creation of a national stock of the Belarusian intangible heritage. Anyone can get acquainted with its results at www.livingheritage.by.
So far, Belarus has added one element into the UNESCO List: the ‘Kolyady Tsars’ Christmas custom of the village of Semezhevo of the Minsk District. However, our experts join keepers of national traditions in preparing proposals to expand Belarus’ representation in the List.
Our fruitful collaboration with UNESCO in the field of documentary heritage is also worth mentioning. Thanks to this co-operation, Oginski’s archive has been returned to the country in an electronic form. In addition, much work has been done to virtually reconstruct the documentary heritage of the Sapegi, Khreptovichs and Radziwills. This year, an e-library of Yuzef Krashevsky has been created; his unique legacy is included into the Guinness Book of Records. Anyone can get acquainted with the results of this activity at the National Library and other cultural establishments of the Republic.
Collection and restoration of our countrymen’s documentary heritage is also vital for the international community. In 2009, the Radziwills’ archives and the Nesvizh library were included into UNESCO’s Memory of the World register — following Belarus’ initiative.
[b][i]What are, in your mind, the prospects of Belarus-UNESCO interaction?[/b][/i]
At present, UNESCO is an important partner of Belarus in solving socio-cultural tasks. It’s a unique platform in which to promote achievements in the fields of culture, science, education, IT and foreign political initiatives, as well as to develop mutually beneficial bilateral contacts.
Our country’s intellectual potential enables us to significantly contribute to the formation of UNESCO’s policy and agenda, as well as to the development of standardised documents and initiation of new activities. Our collaboration has good prospects and the National Commission for UNESCO Affairs will make everything possible to bring concrete and mutually beneficial projects to this co-operation.
By Alina [b]Grishkevich[/b]