UNESCO’s 70th Anniversary was marked in a moving, formal celebration on 31st October 2014 at the Organisation’s headquarters in Paris, with the participation of dignitaries from all over the world.
The Anniversary was dedicated to the great fighter for peace and reconciliation among nations, the great leader of South Africa, the late Nelson Mandela, Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, who was also, among other things, one of the most distinguished members of the Body of UNESCO’s Goodwill Ambassadors.
The start of the celebration of UNESCO’s 70th anniversary included 4 important events, all of which were dedicated to Nelson Mandela:
Two very interesting photography exhibitions. One entitled “Nelson Mandela: From prison to President of the Republic”, included snapshots from the life of Madiba – Nelson Mandela’s nickname – and the Organisation’s Director General, Mrs Irina Bokova, led Mr Nathi Mthethwa, Minister of Culture and Arts of South Africa and Mrs Marianna V. Vardinoyannis, UNESCO’s Goodwill Ambassador round the exhibition. The other exhibition entitled “Developing a Culture of Peace” included 18 images by photographers, each having been awarded UNESCO’s Alfred Fried photography prize.
- The conference on “The legacy of Mandela, a route to future peace and solidarity”, was opened with a speech by the Organisation’s Director General, Mrs Irina Bokova, surrounded by eminent dignitaries such as Mr Nathi Mthethwa, Minister of Culture and Arts of South Africa, who represented his country in the celebration, and the Nigerian winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature and UNESCO’s Goodwill Ambassador, Wole Soyinka, who had been appointed by Mrs Bokova to speak at the conference representing the Body of UNESCO’s Goodwill Ambassadors. Their talks focused on Nelson Mandela’s life, work and contribution to the creation of a global, democratic, free society.
- The ceremony celebrating UNESCO’s 70th anniversary, which was also dedicated to the memory of Nelson Mandela, was held in UNESCO’s large auditorium, in the presence of Mrs Irina Bokova and with keynote speakers the President of Haiti, Mr Michel Martelly, and UNESCO’s Goodwill Ambassador, Mrs Marianna V. Vardinoyannis, whom Mrs Bokova had chosen to represent the Body of UNESCO’s Goodwill Ambassadors and to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela. The event also included many important cultural activities by African artists, all of which were dedicated to Nelson Mandela.
In her opening speech, the Organisation’s Director General, Mrs Irina Bokova, emphasised, among other things, that “the world today is faced with new and great challenges, and we need to meet them with the same courage, the same valiant response and the same vision – because nowadays violence is directed against schools, against cultural diversity, against freedom and human rights”, and referring to Nelson Mandela, after characterising him “a man of international importance” said: “Nelson Mandela embodied all of UNESCO’s values, our belief in human dignity, our faith in the ability of every woman and every man to change society through tolerance and peace”.
This was shortly followed by the President of the Republic of Haiti, Mr Michel Martelly, adding his voice to that of Mrs Bokova in stressing that “today our world is under a serious threat as people are becoming more and more radical, and therefore we need another Mandela to help us tackle extremism and fanaticism, before it is too late”.
There was a poignant moment when those present were asked to dedicate a moment of silence to the memory of Nelson Mandela. After this, Mrs Vardinoyannis took the floor and opened her talk with something Mandela had once said about himself: “I was not a messiah, but an ordinary man who had become a leader because of extraordinary circumstances” and then continued: “This self-characterisation by Mandela reflects his humility and magnanimity. But for us, the family of UNESCO’s Goodwill Ambassadors, who had the honour and pleasure to serve UNESCO with him, he was more than just an ordinary person, more than just a leader, a Goodwill Ambassador and a friend. He was a global symbol of excellence, one of the giants of the 20th century, as characterised by Tahar Ben Jellun. Nelson Mandela will stay in our minds and hearts forever and his noble visions will become a pointer for humanity in the face of future challenges. Precisely 17 years ago, on 31st October1997, Mandela said: “Let us join hands to ensure that as we enter the new millennium, the political rights that the twentieth century has recognised, and the independence that nations have gained, shall be translated into peace, prosperity and equity for all”. Mandela’s philosophy crystallized UNESCO’s values, Peace, tolerance, diversity, dialogue, solidarity, understanding, respect for human rights and human dignity. As a great humanitarian and visionary, the heroic President of South Africa inspired many generations and gave hope through the generosity of his soul, becoming a legend in his own time. As defender of political and personal freedom, Mandela was born free, lived free and remained free even during the 27 years of his imprisonment, and had the fortune to be the one to free millions of people from prejudice, oppression and racism. During the hard times of his imprisonment he drew power and was influenced by the ancient Greek philosophers and the Olympic ideals. He was inspired by the birth of the Republic under the light of the Parthenon and the power of the Republic now preserved under UNESCO’s emblem. Today, his appeal for a safer world for children is more necessary than ever and encapsulates our Anniversary’s message to perfection: “Our reward, he had said upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, will and must be measured by the happiness and welfare of the children, at once the most vulnerable citizens in any society and the greatest of our treasures … ” .
Concluding her talk, Mrs Vardinoyannis, paying tribute to the country hosting UNESCO, said in French: “On this occasion I would like to congratulate UNESCO’s Director General, Mrs Irina Bokova, on successfully managing to lead the Organisation along the path of adaptation despite the challenging times we are experiencing. And finally, seizing the opportunity of the 70th anniversary I would like to express my most sincere wishes, hoping that the coming year will be marked by great advancements in the fields of peace, friendship and world prosperity, with advancements that will bear Madiba’s stamp”.
It is worth noting that within the framework of one of the events of UNESCO’s 70th Anniversary, in her effort to promote the case of the Parthenon Marbles through the Organisation, Mrs. Vardinoyannis had a private meeting and working lunch with the Director General of the Organisation, Mrs Irina Bokova. The two ladies discussed the Organisation’s current issue for UNESCO’s mediation in the case of the Parthenon Marbles, as well as Mrs Bokova’s forthcoming visit to Greece. After the meeting, Mrs Vardinoyannis stated: “During the meeting with Mrs Bokova, we discussed the importance of UNESCO’s mediation in the return of the Parthenon Marbles. I updated her on my meeting with solicitors from London, who asked me to intervene so that they too could meet Mrs Bokova. I also spoke to her about the Meeting of the 23 Committees from around the world promoting the cause of the return of the Parthenon Marbles to be held in Athens in January, and thanked both her and UNESCO for the significant role they have undertaken to further the cause of the return of the Marbles and the protection of our cultural heritage in general.”