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This name uses Eastern Slavic naming customs; the patronymic is Georgieva and the family name is Bokova.
Irina Bokova
Ирина Бокова
Irina Bokova UNESCO.jpg
Director-General of UNESCO
Assumed office
15 October 2009
Deputy Getachew Engida
Preceded by Kōichirō Matsuura
Minister of Foreign Affairs
In office
13 November 1996 – 13 February 1997
Prime Minister Zhan Videnov
Preceded by Georgi Pirinski
Succeeded by Stoyan Stalev (Acting)
Personal details
Born (1952-07-12) 12 July 1952 (age 63)
Sofia, Bulgaria
Political party Communist Party (Before 1990)
Socialist Party (1990–present)
Spouse(s) Lubomir Kolarov (Divorced)
Kalin Mitrev
Children Pavel
Alma mater Moscow State Institute of
International Relations

Irina Georgieva Bokova (Bulgarian: Ирина Георгиева Бокова) (born 12 July 1952) is a Bulgarian politician and the Director-General of UNESCO. As Director-General of UNESCO, Bokova is actively supportive of international efforts to advance gender equality, improve education and cutoff funding for terrorism by increasing efforts to fight piracy of intellectual goods. A firm opponent of racism and anti-Semitism, Bokova has led UNESCO's activities on Holocaust remembrance. She was member of the Bulgarian parliament from the Bulgarian Socialist Party for two terms, minister and deputy minister of foreign affairs in the cabinet of Prime Minister Zhan Videnov, and was Bulgaria's ambassador to France and to Monaco, Permanent Delegate of Bulgaria to UNESCO and personal representative of the Bulgaria's president 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. In addition to her mother tongue, she speaks English, French, Spanish and Russian. She is married with two grown children who live and work in the United States.[1][2]

Childhood and early years[edit]

Irina Bokova is the daughter of the communist-era politician Georgi Bokov, editor-in-chief of Rabotnichesko Delo, the official newspaper and organ of the Bulgarian Communist Party.[3] By descent Bokova is Bulgarian from Macedonia.[4] Bokova is a graduate of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. Subsequently, she worked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria, eventually becoming Minister in the winter of 1996–1997. She was a member of the Bulgarian communist party until 1990.



Current positions[edit]

  • Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
  • Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Bulgaria to France.
  • Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Bulgaria to the Principality of Monaco.
  • Permanent Delegate of the Republic of Bulgaria to UNESCO.
  • Representative of the Bulgarian Government to the Executive Board of UNESCO (since the election of Bulgaria in October 2007).
  • Personal Representative of the President of the Republic of Bulgaria to Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF).
  • Deputy Chairperson, Group of Francophone Countries at UNESCO.
  • Chairperson of the Second Extraordinary Session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (February 2008, Sofia).
  • Member of the Literary group Prix des Ambassadeur.

Parliamentary experience[edit]

  • Deputy Chairperson of the Foreign Policy, Defense and Security Committee.
  • Member of the European Integration Committee.
  • Deputy Chairperson of the Joint Parliamentary Committee Bulgaria – European Union.

Civil society experience[edit]

  • Founder and Chairperson of the European Policy Forum (since its inception in Sofia in 1997), a non-profit, non-governmental organization.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs[edit]

November 1996 – February 1997:

June 1995 – February 1997, other positions held in the cabinet of Zhan Videnov, Bulgarian Socialist Party:

  • First Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs in charge of UN, OSCE, EU and NATO.
  • Chief co-ordinator of Bulgaria–EU relations.[5]
  • Co-Chairperson, Bulgaria – EU Association Committee.[5]
  • National PHARE Co-ordinator.[5]
  • Chairperson, Inter-Agency Co-ordination Commission on European Integration (at deputy ministerial level).
  • Took part as head of delegation or keynote speaker in a number of international fora.
  • Member of the Board of Trustees of the Centre for European Studies.


On 22 September 2009, Bokova was elected Director-General of UNESCO.[2] 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.[2] Hosny had been expected to win but attracted criticism from figures such as Nobel Peace laureate Elie Wiesel over his anti-Israel statements.[2][6] She took over the position from Koïchiro Matsuura of Japan.[2] She entered the office of the Director-General as both the first woman, and the first Eastern European to take this role.[2] 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.[7] She was re-elected by the UNESCO General Conference on 12 November 2013.[8]

In 2009, while most of the Bulgarian media was supportive[9] of Ms. Bokova's future role at the helm of UNESCO, some raised questions about her past as a daughter of a member of the totalitarian communist elite.[10] 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.[11] On the other hand, The New York Times not only published an article, explaining who Mrs. Bokova is,[12] 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."[13]

On 16 January 2014, Irina Bokova yielded to pressure from the Arab League and postponed[14] for five months an exhibit entitled "The People, the Book, the Land – 3,500 years of ties between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel" following 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 21 January through 30 January 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.[15] The US State Department said it was outraged at the move, "UNESCO's decision is wrong and should be reversed."[16] 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".[17] 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".[18] The exhibition was opened on 11 June 2014 in Paris, in a ceremony with participation by Mrs. Bokova and the Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Rabbi Marvin Hier.[19] The exhibit was co-sponsored by Israel, Canada, and Montenegro, and was called "a breakthrough" by its author, professor Robert Wistrich.[20]

On 28 March 2015, she launched Unite4Heritage, a campaign aiming to create a global movement "to protect and safeguard heritage in areas where it is threatened by extremists".[21] The campaign was triggered by the programmatic destruction of cultural heritage conducted in Iraq and Syria by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) since 2014, in particular after the circulation of videos of looting at Mosul Museum, destruction in the city of Nimrud and the UNESCO World Heritage site of Hatra.

As Director-General of UNESCO, Bokova led efforts to block the trade in Syrian and Iraqi cultural artifacts to fund ISIS and other radical Islamist groups. These efforts led to the adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2199 on 12 February 2015. This resolution officially recognized the link between illicit traffic and security, outlawed all trade in cultural goods from Iraq and Syria and requested that UNESCO coordinate efforts in this area with Interpol.[22] In response to the threat to Iraq's antiquities from increased violence and instability, Bokova implemented an emergency plan to safeguard artifacts of Iraq's cultural heritage.[23]

United Nations Secretary-General Candidacy[edit]

In June 2014 the Bulgarian government nominated[24] Irina Bokova to be the official candidate of the country for the United Nations top job.

In January 2015 the new Bulgarian government confirmed[25] the candidacy. That same month former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski wrote in an article at the Wall Street Journal, that her work at UNESCO is "highly regarded", and that the Bulgarian government has "nominated her to succeed Ban Ki-moon as the next U.N. Secretary-General, and she is widely believed to be the frontrunner for that position".[26]

In July 2015 The Guardian published an article,[27] titled Will the next UN secretary general be a woman? with a picture of Irina Bokova and a description The head of Unesco, Irina Bokova from Bulgaria, is a favourite to become the UN's new secretary general in 2017.

Bulgarian weekly Capital wrote a page[28] about her candidacy, which states, among other,

Bokova demonstrates diplomatic and governance skills in a big international organization – UNESCO, which she heads for a second term. She has good reputation to the permanent five members of the UN Security Council. She speaks fluently English, French, Spanish and Russian – four of the six official UN languages (the requirement is for two). She has a clear vision about the mission and activity of the organization.

In July 2015 EurActiv published an article[29] by former Irish Minister for European Affairs and Minister for the Environment Dick Roche, titled The next UN Secretary-General? Bokova ticks all the boxes, arguing in favor of Irina Bokova's candidacy.

Responding to a Parliamentary question, on 18 May 2015 the Bulgarian foreign minister Daniel Mitov explained[30] the process, undertaken by the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to support Irina Bokova's candidacy. He informed the Bulgarian Parliament that the campaign consists of three stages – information-consultative one – until September 2015, the essential stage – between September 2015 and April 2016, and the last stage – from May 2016 until October–December 2016.

On 29 September 2015 David Clark, chairman of the Russia Foundation, published an article[31] in the Financial Times' beyondbrics forum. In it the author says, "Of the women from Eastern Europe being discussed is Irina Bokova, the current head of UNESCO and former Bulgarian foreign minister. She is considered to be a front-runner. Bulgaria’s prime minister officially nominated and endorsed her this summer."

In the media[edit]

Bokova features as a main character in three plays by Paris-based UK playwright Nick AwdeBruges (The Europeans Part 1; Edinburgh Festival 2014), Antwerp (The Europeans Part 2; Edinburgh Festival 2015), and Tervuren (The Europeans Part 3; 2016).[citation needed]

Awards and decorations[edit]

Award or decoration Date Place
Doctor honoris causa of Ewha Womans University May 2010 Seoul, Korea
Doctor honoris causa of Moscow State Institute of International Relations September 2010 Moscow, Russian Federation
Doctor honoris causa of Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore October 2010 Milan, Italy
Doctor honoris causa of St. Cyril and St. Methodius University of Veliko Tarnovo October 2010 Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria
Doctor honoris causa of National University of San Martín December 2010 Buenos Aires, Argentina
Doctor honoris causa in Law of Pontifical Catholic University of Peru February 2011 Lima, Peru
Doctor honoris causa of Philippine Normal University March 2011 Manila, Philippines
Quadricentennial Golden Cross Award of University of Santo Tomas March 2011 Manila, Philippines
Doctor honoris causa of National University of Political Studies and Public Administration Studies April 2011 Bucharest, Romania
Doctor honoris causa of Golda Meir Mount Carmel International Training Center at Haifa University May 2011 Haifa, Israel
Doctor honoris causa of University of Edinburgh June 2011 Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Doctor honoris causa of Mongolian University of Science and Technology July 2011 Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Doctor honoris causa of Lomonosov Moscow State University September 2011 Moscow, Russian Federation
Doctor honoris causa of University of Algiers 1 April 2012 Algiers, Algeria
Doctor honoris causa of University of Dhaka May 2012 Dhaka, Bangladesh
Honorary Professor of Tongji University May 2012 Shanghai, China
Honorary Distinction of Slovak University of Technology in Bratislava May 2012 Bratislava, Slovak Republic
Honorary Distinction of Slovak Academy of Sciences May 2012 Bratislava, Slovak Republic
Doctor honoris causa of Herzen University June 2012 St. Petersburg, Russian Federation
Doctor honoris causa of Durham University June 2012 Durham, United Kingdom
Doctor honoris causa of Laval University February 2013 Quebec, Canada
Doctor honoris causa of Tongji University May 2013 Shanghai, China
Doctor honoris causa of Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam June 2013 Ha Noi, Vietnam
Doctor honoris causa of Eurasian National University August 2013 Astana, Kazakhstan
Doctor honoris causa in Humanities of University of Malaya September 2013 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Honourable Medal and Diploma of National Academy of Sciences April 2014 Kyiv, Ukraine
Doctor honoris causa of University of Yaoundé I September 2014 Yaoundé, Cameroon
Doctor honoris causa of National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts October 2014 Paris, France
KOÇ-KAM Semahat Arsel Distinguished Fellow of Koç University January 2015 Istanbul, Turkey
Doctor honoris causa of University of National and World Economy January 2015 Sofia, Bulgaria
Grand Cross of the Order of the Sun of Peru February 2011 Lima, Peru
Grand Chancellor of the National Order of Chad March 2012 Chad
Title of Commander of the National Order of Benin June 2012 Benin
Officer of the Order of Cultural Merit March 2013 Monaco
Grand Officer of the Condecoracion de la Orden Jose Matias Delgado March 2013 El Salvador
Order of the People's Friendship of the Republic of Bashkortostan October 2013 Bashkortostan
National Order "Juan Mora Fernández" November 2013 Costa Rica
Order of Diplomatic Service Merit February 2014 Seoul, Korea
Hilal-i-Pakistan Award February 2014 Pakistan
Order of Friendship April 2014 Kazakhstan
Order of Stara Planina (1st class) 31 March 2014 Sofia, Bulgaria
Medal "Magtymguly Pyragy"[32] 15 May 2014 Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
Title of Commander of the Order of Ouissam Alaouite July 2014 Rabat, Morocco
Grand Officer of the Order of Valour of Cameroon September 2014 Cameroon
Title of Commander of the Legion of Honour[33] April 2015 Paris, France

On 6 April 2015, the French Embassy in Bulgaria announced that Mrs. Bokova has been awarded the French Order of the Legion of Honour.[34] On 31 March 2014, Bokova was officially awarded Bulgaria's highest national honour – the Order of Stara Planina (1st class) by president Rosen 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.[35][36]


  1. ^ Irina Bokova, directrice générale de l’UNESCO, nommée commandeur de la Légion d’honneur French Embassy in Sofia
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Bokova wins Unesco leadership vote". Al Jazeera. 22 September 2009. Retrieved 22 September 2009. 
  3. ^ "A Glance at UNESCO's Next Leader". The New York Times. 22 September 2009. [dead link]
  4. ^ "Стандарт", Брой 5860, 8 май 2009. (Bulgarian)
  5. ^ a b c d Biography on Irina Bokova's personal web site
  6. ^ STEVEN ERLANGER (22 September 2009). "Bulgarian Defeats Egyptian in Unesco Vote". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 September 2009. 
  7. ^ "Irina Bokova nominated by UNESCO Executive Board for the post of Director-General". UNESCO. 4 October 2013. Retrieved 7 October 2013. 
  8. ^ UNESCO General Conference elects Irina Bokova for second term as Director-General
  9. ^ F.e. "Don't Envy, Rejoice, Bulgarians" (In Bulgarian), an editorial in "Trud", Bulgaria's best-selling newspaper
  10. ^ "Is Bokova's Win a Win for the Entire Nation" a blog posting by Ivo Indzhev, a prominent Bulgarian journalist and blogger (In Bulgarian)
  11. ^ Warum die Unesco-Wahl ein Skandal ist (German), Summary in English, In Bulgarian
  12. ^ Bulgarian Who Is to Lead Unesco Advocates Political Pluralism, The New York Times, 24 September 2009.
  13. ^ The Right Head for Unesco, The New York Times, 28 September 2009.
  14. ^ Information regarding the planned exhibition, “People, Book, Land – The 3,500 Year Relationship of the Jewish People to the Holy Land” (information from UNESCO)
  15. ^ "UN cancels Jewish exhibit at last minute on Arab complaints". Fox News Channel. 
  16. ^ "U.S. chides UNESCO for putting Jewish exhibit on hold". Reuters. 
  17. ^ "US, Canada urge UNESCO not to postpone exhibit on Land of Israel". The Jerusalem Post. 
  18. ^ "UN cancels Jewish exhibit at last minute on Arab complaints". Fox News Channel. 
  19. ^ “People, Book, Land: The 3500 Year Relationship of the Jewish People with the Holy Land” exhibition opens at UNESCO (information from UNESCO web site)
  20. ^ UNESCO deletes ‘Israel’ from title of its exhibit on Jewish ties to Israel (article in The Times of Israel)
  21. ^ "#Unite4Heritage campaign launched by UNESCO Director-General in Baghdad". UNESCO. Retrieved 15 May 2015. 
  22. ^ "We stand together to protect Iraq's cultural heritage, says French President with UNESCO Director-General". UNESCO. Retrieved 13 August 2015. 
  23. ^ Web Site, UNESCO. "Emergency Response Action Plan to safeguard Iraqi heritage". Retrieved 13 August 2015. 
  24. ^ Bulgaria nominates Bokova for UN Secretary General (EurActive)
  25. ^ Bulgaria puts forward Bokova's candidacy for UN Secretary-General(EurActive)
  26. ^ Aleksander Kwasniewski (1 January 2015). "Leaders Among Equals". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 22 August 2015. 
  27. ^ Salima Yacoubi Soussane (9 July 2015). "Will the next UN secretary general be a woman?". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 August 2015. 
  28. ^ Nikola Nikolov (16 August 2014). "On the road to the top of the UN". Capital Weekly. Retrieved 13 August 2015. 
  29. ^ The next UN Secretary-General? Bokova ticks all the boxes (article by Dick Roche, published at EurActiv)
  30. ^ Response by minister Mitov to a question by MP Kristian Vigenin (in Bulgarian, from the official site of the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry)
  31. ^ "Eastern Europe must grab its chance to name the next UN Secretary General". Financial Times. Retrieved 1 October 2015. 
  32. ^ Alsina. "Туркменистан сегодня – веб-сайт государственного информационного агентства Туркменистана – Указы Президента Туркменистана и Хроника 15-го мая". Turkmenistan state news agency. 
  33. ^ UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova awarded Order of the Legion of Honour
  34. ^ Irina Bokova, directrice générale de l’UNESCO, nommée commandeur de la Légion d’honneur (from the site of the French Embassy in Sofia)
  35. ^ Указ № 211 Обн. ДВ. бр. 98 от 12 ноември 2013 г.
  36. ^ "Бокова получи орден "Стара планина" с лента и се върна в детството". 31 March 2014. Retrieved 1 April 2014. 

External links[edit]

Articles and Interviews[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Georgi Pirinski
Minister of Foreign Affairs

Succeeded by
Stoyan Stalev
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Kōichirō Matsuura
Director-General of UNESCO
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