UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova highlighted her organization’s financial plight when she met with a dozen AAPA members at a breakfast meeting at UNESCO headquarters on October 11.

“UNESCO needs all our members,” she said, calling it “unfair that UNESCO is caught in the Middle East conflict” over a US law requiring a halt to payments to international organizations that admit Palestine as a member before there has been a peace agreement. The US contribution to UNESCO would normally represent 22% of its budget.

She noted that there has been a heartening list of countries making voluntary contributions to make up for the budgetary shortfall but that this cannot be a long-term solution. The most substantial emergency contributions, with various conditions, have come in approximate order of size from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Algeria, Indonesia and Turkey, Bokova said.

“We’re not closing UNESCO,” she said. “It will not be crippled.”  But she also pointed out that such emergency funding is not sustainable and “the United States must make a choice.” If the United States does not resume paying its share, she said, it would lose not only its UNESCO voting rights but also its “credibility.” UNESCO has frozen hiring for 386 positions representing 15% of its staff, she said.

Flanked by Janis Karklins, Assistant Director General for the Communication & Information Program, and Guy Berger, Director of Freedom of Expression and Media Development, Mme. Bokova offered assurances of UNESCO’s continued commitment to its freedom of expression and press freedom programs regardless of proposals to merge them with UNESCO’s Culture Program as part of the Organization’s economy drive brought on by the freeze on US dues payments.

– Ronald Koven