UNESCO and the Cold War

University of Heidelberg, 4-5 March 2010

UNESCO was an important arena for the Cold War, but it was also an actor with an agenda of its own. The purpose of this conference was to explore different historical perspectives concerning the extent of the Cold War’s impact on UNESCO and vice versa. The conference was hosted by the Heidelberg Center for American Studies at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, and took place on 4 and 5 March 2010.

From its very inception UNESCO was one of the forums, where East-West contest in the ideological sphere became most visible. For many years the Organization remained a hostage of Cold War confrontation, when both opposing blocs attempted to use it as an instrument in their war of ideas. On the other hand, the UNESCO that had been founded, as its Constitution declares, "for the purpose of advancing, through the educational and scientific and cultural relations of the people of the world, the objective of international peace and of the common welfare of mankind," played an important and not always appreciated part in alleviating contradictions between opposing Cold War blocs, seeking ways of mitigating the conflict between them by way of influencing people's thinking and spreading ideas of peace and accommodation that could help eliminate the seeds of war in the minds of people.

The objective of the conference was therefore not only to study the influence that the Cold War exerted on UNESCO, its activities and evolution, but also the impact that the Organization, through its efforts in connecting peoples and countries in the sphere of culture, education and science, had on this confrontation between countries divided by an irreconcilable discrepancy of worldviews, interests and objectives in the international arena.