Irina Georgieva Bokova (Bulgarian: Ирина Георгиева Бокова) (born 12 July 1952) is a Bulgarian politician and incumbent Director-General of UNESCO. She was member of the Bulgarian Parliament from the Bulgarian Socialist Party for two terms, minister and deputy minister of foreign affairs in the socialist cabinet of Prime Minister Zhan Videnov, and was Ambassador of the Republic of Bulgaria to France and to Monaco, Permanent Delegate of Bulgaria to UNESCO and Personal Representative of the President of Bulgaria to the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (2005–2009). On 22 September 2009, Bokova's candidacy was proposed for the post of Director-General of UNESCO. On 15 October 2009, The 35th Session of the General Conference elected Irina Bokova of Bulgaria as the tenth Director-General of UNESCO. Bokova is the first female and Eastern European to head UNESCO.
On 31 March 2014, Bokova was officially awarded Bulgaria's highest national honour - the Order of Stara Planina (1st class) by presidentRosen Plevneliev for her extremely significant merits to Bulgaria, bringing about an improvement in world peace and security indicators and the development of political and cultural exchanges at the highest levels.
On 22 September 2009, Bokova was elected Director-General of UNESCO. She defeated nine candidates at the election in Paris, with Farouk Hosny ultimately being defeated by 31-27 in the fifth and last round of voting. Hosny had been expected to win but attracted criticism from figures such as Nobel Peace laureateElie Wiesel over his anti-Israel statements. She takes over the position from Koïchiro Matsuura of Japan. She will serve in this office for a four-year period. Bokova is both the first woman and the first Eastern European to take this role. On 15 October 2009, The 35th Session of the General Conference elected Irina Bokova of Bulgaria as the tenth Director-General of UNESCO. The investiture took place in a ceremony in Room I in the afternoon of Friday 23 October 2009.
On 4 October 2013, the Executive Board of UNESCO nominated her for second term as Director-General.
Saudi King Abdullah was awarded a UNESCO medal by UNESCO President Irina Bokova in 2012.
While some of the Bulgarian media was supportive of Ms. Bokova's future role at the helm of UNESCO, others raised questions about her past as a daughter of a member of the totalitarian communist elite. Bulgarian-born German writer Iliya Troyanov criticised Bokova's election as Director-General of UNESCO in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, calling it "a scandal," in light of Bokova's father's communist past. On the other hand, The New York Times not only published an article, explaining who Mrs. Bokova is, but also officially supported her nomination on the grounds that "[s]he played an active role in Bulgaria’s political transformation from Soviet satellite to European Union member. That should be a strong asset in leading an organization badly buffeted in the past by ideological storms."
On January 16, 2014, Irina Bokova yielded to pressure from the Arab League and canceled the exhibit entitled, “The People, the Book, the Land — 3,500 years of ties between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel,” after protest from the Arab states in UNESCO, arguing it would harm the peace process. Invitations had already gone out and the exhibit was scheduled to run from January 21 through January 30 at UNESCO’s Paris headquarters with fully prepared exhibition material already in place. In a letter to Bokova, Abdulla al Neaimi, an official from the United Arab Emirates, expressed “deep worry and great disapproval” over the program showing the age old connection between Israel and the Jewish people. The US State Department said it was outraged at the move, “UNESCO’s decision is wrong and should be reversed.” Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs said “is no appropriate rationale to delay the exhibition and deeply disappointed by the decision made to postpone it”. The Wiesenthal Center called the move an “Absolute outrage, the Arabs don’t want the world to know that the Jews have a 3,500-year relationship to the Land of Israel”.