As if any more reasons were needed for the U.S. to pull out of UNESCO altogether, it appears that UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova is now celebrating Saudi Arabia as an exemplar of “dialogue” and “building a culture of peace.” Bokova has just dropped in on Riyadh, where — according to the Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) — she decorated the Saudi king with a gold medal, which KUNA describes as UNESCO’s “highest honorary recognition award.” Also in attendance, according to KUNA, were “elite of UNESCO’s ambassadors,” including envoys of Germany, Brazil, Poland, France, and — now we get to the real UNESCO elite — “Palestine” and Zimbabwe.
I’m not yet sure what to make of this report of a UNESCO gold medal bestowed by Bokova in Riyadh. On the UNESCO web site, I’m not seeing any mention of it — though perhaps such news will turn up. The UNESCO web site does, however, carry a series of reports on Bokova’s adventures these past few days in Saudi Arabia, including her praise of Saudi science labs, educational ambitions, and a miasma of UN jargon about peace, renewable this and sustainable that. And Saudi Arabia figures large right now at UNESCO. Bokova’s visit to Riyadh follows her opening last week of a three-day Saudi cultural event at UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris.
All this follows Bokova’s lengthy visit in March to the U.S., part of a UNESCO self-advertising blitz in which Bokova has been campaigning for the U.S. to overturn its own law in order to restore the funding UNESCO lost last year due to its own folly in admitting the Palestinian Authority despite warnings from the U.S., and a red light from the UN Security Council.
What’s the common denominator of Bokova’s visits to Saudi Arabia and the U.S.? How should we understand this romancing of both the democratic U.S. and repressive Saudi Arabia? What principle does UNESCO steer by?
These countries have one big thing in common: Pots of money. Bokova runs a UN organization substantially hostile to U.S. values and interests, headquartered in Paris and top-heavy with well-paid officials accustomed to fat perquisites, comfortable lifestyles, and often vague responsibilities. That takes a lot of money, and she appears to be pursuing that money, whatever it takes, and wherever it takes her. The best response for the U.S. would be to pull out of UNESCO entirely, wave good-bye (again) and wish UNESCO’s director general and her flock of “elite” ambassadors a grand old time pursuing dialogue, peace and sustainable cash in Riyadh.