» The Director-General addresses Flemish Parliament on the “New Multilateralism for the 21st Century”
09.06.2016 - ODG

The Director-General addresses Flemish Parliament on the “New Multilateralism for the 21st Century”

Photo: Twitter/@DeirdreGouwy - UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, at the Flemish Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, on 9 June 2016

On 9 June, at the invitation of the Speaker of the Flemish Parliament, Mr. Jan Peumans, Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO, addressed the joint committees of the Flemish Parliament with a lecture on “A New Multilateralism to tackle New Challenges”, on confronting significant threats to global stability as a result of intolerance, poverty and climate change. The lecture was followed by an interactive dialogue with Parliamentarians, on a new partnership built on inclusion, openness and ownership.

The Director-General opened by expressing her condolences for the loss of life that followed the recent terrorist attack in Brussels. She highlighted the main issues facing the international community today, including the persistence of poverty and deepening inequalities, the lack of quality education and a weakening social contract in many parts of the world. Climate change and enduring conflicts are forcing millions of people on the road. 

“Fundamentally, we are seeing a new global struggle for the hearts and minds, especially of the young hearts and minds”, the Director-General said about the rise of violent extremism and which calls for new forms of action, building on “soft power to build new partnerships”. 

“Violent extremists are not born, they are made and fueled”, she stated, referring to the importance of education, media literacy and opportunities for youth engagement. The Director-General informed the Parliamentarians on the range of tools and projects UNESCO and its partners are developing to assist member states to prevent and counter violent extremism and radicalization, with a focus on quality education, information literacy and the promotion of critical thinking and policy advice. 

Regarding ongoing ‘cultural cleansing,' she urged for joint action to put culture on the frontline of peacebuilding and humanitarian emergency operations. 

“Violent extremists attack culture, to weaken the fabric of ‘living together’, to destroy the symbols of dialogue”, she stated. 

Irina Bokova advocated for strengthening international cooperation and taking preventive measures to protect key world heritage sites from terrorism and looting, which underpins the #unite4heritage campaign the Director-General launched in Bagdad last year, to counter hate propaganda. 

The Director-General thanked Flanders for their longstanding support to UNESCO, notably for the protection of heritage, referring to Flemish support to UNESCO’s efforts to safeguard the heritage in Syria, Nepal and several Southern African countries. She also thanked Flanders for its sustained support to UNESCO’s Science programs, in particular to water cooperation programmes and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Committee, a commitment that in the face of the climate change challenge and the new global development goals is more needed than ever. 

“Our partnership is about bolstering societies in transformation, facing uncertainty, giving them tools and capacities to help themselves”, she said, referring to efforts now required to move forward the Paris Climate Change Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 

The Director-General concluded by underlining the importance of parliaments in this process. Speaking from her own experience as a parliamentarian, she emphasized the vital role of representatives of the people to raise awareness, mobilize action, in legislating catalyst change and in monitoring and ensuring accountability. 

The Speaker of the parliament, Jan Peumans,  mentioned in his opening speech the scars left by the recent attack in Brussels on Belgian society and how education, and mutual understanding are key to a multicultural society. 

Mr Rik Daems,  Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Policy, European Affairs, Tourism and Cultural Heritage,  made a strong appeal for a worldwide parliamentarian cooperation to foster a new multilateral model and a diplomacy supported by 'we the peoples'. 

The spectrum of political families made statements in support of UNESCO's work,  stressing the cooperation in the field of education,  science and culture to create open, sustainable and tolerant societies. 

The Flemish Parliament convened for the first time in this constellation, a clear sign of the importance given to receiving the Director-General and underlining the longstanding bond that has been created throughout the years between Flanders and UNESCO.

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