Irina Bokova

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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-IMG 3582.jpg
Director-General 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 62)
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
Website Official website

Irina Georgieva Bokova (Bulgarian: Ирина Георгиева Бокова) (born 12 July 1952) is a Bulgarian politician and incumbent Director-General of UNESCO. As head of UNESCO, Irina Bokova is strongly engaged with issues, dealing with access to education, gender equality, cultural diversity. She is also defending the freedom of speech and safety of journalists around the world.[1]

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,[2] 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. She was re-elected on that post in 2013. A native speaker of Bulgarian, Bokova is also fluent in English, French, Russian, and Spanish. She is married with two children.

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.


Awards and decorations[edit]

Award or decoration Date Place
Doctor honoris causa of Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore 7 October 2010 Milan, Italy
Golden Cross Award (Quadricentennial Golden Cross) of the University of Santo Tomas 25 March 2011 Manila City, Philippines
Doctor honoris causa Philippine Normal University 26 March 2011 Manila City, Philippines
Order of Stara Planina (1st class) 31 March 2014 Sofia, Bulgaria
Medal «Magtymguly Pyragy»[6] 15 May 2014 Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
Order Legion of Honour[7] 5 April 2015 Paris, France

On April 6 2015, the French Embassy in Bulgaria announced that Mrs. Bokova has been awarded the French Order of the Legion of Honour.[8] 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.[9][10]


Current positions[edit]

  • Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

Diplomatic experience[edit]

  • 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.[5]
  • 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).

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.
  • Member of the Literary group fr:Prix des Ambassadeur.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs experience[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][11] 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.[12] She was re-elected by the UNESCO General Conference on 12 November 2013.[13]


In 2009, while most of the Bulgarian media was supportive[14] 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.[15] 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.[16] On the other hand, The New York Times not only published an article, explaining who Mrs. Bokova is,[17] 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."[18]

On January 16, 2014, Irina Bokova yielded to pressure from the Arab League and postponed[19] 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 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.[20] The US State Department said it was outraged at the move, “UNESCO’s decision is wrong and should be reversed.”[21] 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”.[22] 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”.[23] The exhibition was opened on June 11 2014 in Paris, in a ceremony with participation by Mrs. Bokova and the Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Rabbi Marvin Hier.[24] The exhibit was co-sponsored by Israel, Canada, and Montenegro, and was called "a breakthrough" by its author, professor Robert Wistrich. [25]

On April 9, 2015, the Russian TASS agency announced that Irina Bokova will attend the celebrations for the end of Eastern Front (World War II).[26] The concrete reason to visit Moscow, Mrs. Bokova says in the interview, would be a visit to the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center,[27] as "UNESCO is partnering with such memorials around the globe". She also noted that "Celebrating the end of World War II is very important. It is necessary to keep the memory about history". The news was mistakenly reported in some media as if Mrs. Bokova will be present at the military parade on May 9, which - based on the quoted sources - she isn't planning to do.


  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. 2009-09-22. Retrieved 2009-09-22. 
  3. ^ "A Glance at UNESCO's Next Leader". The New York Times. 2009-09-22. [dead link]
  4. ^ "Стандарт", Брой 5860, 8 май 2009. (Bulgarian)
  5. ^ a b c d e Biography on Irina Bokova's personal web site
  6. ^ Alsina. "Туркменистан сегодня - веб-сайт государственного информационного агентства Туркменистана - Указы Президента Туркменистана и Хроника 15-го мая". Turkmenistan state news agency. 
  7. ^ UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova awarded Order of the Legion of Honour
  8. ^ Irina Bokova, directrice générale de l’UNESCO, nommée commandeur de la Légion d’honneur (from the site of the French Embassy in Sofia)
  9. ^ Указ № 211 Обн. ДВ. бр. 98 от 12 ноември 2013 г.
  10. ^ "Бокова получи орден "Стара планина" с лента и се върна в детството". 2014-03-31. Retrieved 2014-04-01. 
  11. ^ STEVEN ERLANGER (2009-09-22). "Bulgarian Defeats Egyptian in Unesco Vote". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-09-22. 
  12. ^ "Irina Bokova nominated by UNESCO Executive Board for the post of Director-General". UNESCO. 2013-10-04. Retrieved 2013-10-07. 
  13. ^ UNESCO General Conference elects Irina Bokova for second term as Director-General
  14. ^ F.e. "Don't Envy, Rejoice, Bulgarians" (In Bulgarian), an editorial in "Trud", Bulgaria's best-selling newspaper
  15. ^ "Is Bokova's Win a Win for the Entire Nation" a blog posting by Ivo Indzhev, a prominent Bulgarian journalist and blogger (In Bulgarian)
  16. ^ Warum die Unesco-Wahl ein Skandal ist (German), Summary in English, In Bulgarian
  17. ^ Bulgarian Who Is to Lead Unesco Advocates Political Pluralism, New York Times, Sept. 24, 2009.
  18. ^ The Right Head for Unesco, New York Times, Sept. 28, 2009.
  19. ^ Information regarding the planned exhibition, “People, Book, Land – The 3,500 Year Relationship of the Jewish People to the Holy Land” (information from UNESCO)
  20. ^ "UN cancels Jewish exhibit at last minute on Arab complaints". Fox News. 
  21. ^ "U.S. chides UNESCO for putting Jewish exhibit on hold". Reuters. 
  22. ^ "US, Canada urge UNESCO not to postpone exhibit on Land of Israel". The Jerusalem Post - 
  23. ^ "UN cancels Jewish exhibit at last minute on Arab complaints". Fox News. 
  24. ^ “People, Book, Land: The 3500 Year Relationship of the Jewish People with the Holy Land” exhibition opens at UNESCO (information from UNESCO web site)
  25. ^ UNESCO deletes ‘Israel’ from title of its exhibit on Jewish ties to Israel (article in The Times of Israel)
  26. ^ "TASS: Russia - UNESCO chief to attend Victory Day celebrations in Moscow". TASS. 
  27. ^ "ТАСС: Международная панорама - Глава ЮНЕСКО примет участие в майских торжествах по случаю 70-летия Победы". ТАСС. 

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