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Around the World, Across the Political Spectrum

Member of Top Communist Nomenclature Shortlisted for Highest UN Post


By Tatiana Christy

As the 2016 election for the prestigious post of UN Secretary General approaches, the global community is once again in search of the best candidate to replace the current Secretary Ban Ki-Moon.  Finding a person acceptable to all five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) will not be easy, especially now, when the world is facing political and humanitarian crises on so many levels. Since none of the P5 members can have their own candidate (to avoid further concentration of power within the organization), the U.N. has adopted a regional rotation for every term of this post.

This is why many speculate that the new UN Secretary-General should come from the Eastern European Group – as no one from that region has ever held the highest UN post. In addition, the international community is putting pressure on the organization to elect a woman to become the first UN Secretary-General.  One of the names under consideration is Irina Bokova, who comes from Bulgaria and is the current head of UNESCO.  Although every nation would be happy to have its own UN Secretary-General, this particular candidacy has spread outrage among Bulgarians – both living in Bulgaria and abroad.  The reason for this is Bokova’s background related to the most oppressive circles of the former communist regime in her country. Bokova is the daughter for Georgi Bokov, a prominent communist-era politician and the chief propagandist of the regime. For years, he worked as the Editor-in-Chief of the paper Rabotnichesko Delo (the Bulgarian equivalent of the Russian paper Pravda). Her father has been implicated in the repression of dissidents and brutal murders of Bulgarian intellectual elite – all this information is common knowledge and comes from eyewitness accounts of his own bragging in front of comrades.  Although he died before the fall of communism, his dark legacy is still very present in this nation’s psyche, where he is perceived as the Bulgarian Goebbels.

Like every child coming from the highest strata of communist aristocracy, Irina Bokova received a top education in Bulgaria.  Most children of the communist elite were prepared to serve as diplomats. They were sent to study at the prestigious English-language high school in Sofia, and upon completion, continued their education in Moscow. Such was the case of Irina Bokova, who went on to study at the Moscow State Institute for International Relations, an exclusive institution dedicated to creating the top diplomatic brass of the Eastern Bloc and other Soviet Union satellites.  Among other things, graduates of the school were well versed in the tactics used by KGB operatives abroad.  After graduating in 1977, Bokova started her career at the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry. In 1982, she was sent to work at the Permanent Bulgarian mission at the United Nations. Between 1984 and 1990, she worked at the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry in Sofia, where she witnessed the fall of communism. Instead of facing the doom of her career, the new times became a blessing for many of the former communist elite because they’d had a head start and unsurpassed leverage to enter the new political arena during the difficult transition period. Many people like her quickly transformed their Communist party membership into one of the new Bulgarian Socialist Party --the euphemistic version of the former communist one - with the pretense of being a democratically-mined formation. In truth, the new Socialist Party was a refuge for the former communist elite, who were determined not to lose their grip on the country, and which can be felt even today. Bokova entered politics, serving as a Member of Parliament, a deputy-foreign Minister in 1995 and later an acting foreign minister in the socialist government of Zhan Videnov – a period considered to be the most disastrous in recent Bulgarian history. Later, she continued to be a MP for the socialist party. Between the years 2005-2009 she served as the Bulgarian Ambassador to France and Monaco and, at the same time, was given the post of the Ambassador of Bulgaria to UNESCO.  In 2009, she was appointed to the vacated post of the Director-General of UNESCO.  

Bokova turned out to be a polished bureaucrat, politician and diplomat. However, she owed her career entirely to her strong communist party connections before and after the fall of communism. In her defense, she has always claimed that “only during Stalinism people have been judged by who their parents were and that she should not be held responsible for the deeds of her father.” But her critics say that children indeed should not be responsible for the deeds of their parents, only in cases when those deeds were not directly responsible for the privileged positions their children had been granted for life.  Bokova’s opponents say that she never officially criticized or denounced the communist regime in Bulgaria, nor the crimes her father committed and that her complacent sense of entitlement has always been present in her public life.   “Even the remote probability for Irina Bokova to become the head of the United Nations is disturbing,” says Dr. Lubomir Kanov, Board Certified Psychiatrist, who was a former political prisoner in Bulgaria and a political refugee, currently living in Long Island, NY. “Bokova’s nomination will show the amorality and the uselessness of the United Nations, if the organization even considers such candidacy. This shows that this organization does not put an equal sign between the fascist and communist nomenclature and their descendants,” contends Dr. Kanov. Indeed, many in Bulgaria ask the question: “With thousands of highly skilled and educated Bulgarians why all we can offer to the U.N. is qualified communist nomenclature? Would one of Dr. Goebbels’ daughters be ever considered to become the chief of the U.N.?” It may be an exaggerated comparison but still it poses the disturbing question of whether the burden of historic events and general perception of “morality” should be taken into account when choosing a candidate for such an important international post. 

Understandably, Bokova is the favorite candidate of Russia and it has been putting huge pressure on the current Bulgarian government to officially nominate her as the country’s candidate. Behind Bokova is the entire former communist elite in Bulgaria, who still has strong positions in the Bulgarian parliament and government. Some of her supporters threaten to break the fragile ruling coalition in the current government, should her candidacy not be approved, which has not yet officially happened.  In the meantime, her name is being mentioned in several incidents of corruption and other scandals. Recently, the Bulgarian site for investigative journalism, Bivol, published a report about properties she had acquired in New York City for which she paid $2.4 million in cash. Her son was listed as a proxy in one of the transactions, taking out a mortgage loan for $870,000, which was quickly repaid with no confirmed ways of income.  The report says that after examining her official income documents and other property transactions in Bulgaria, it is impossible to understand where this amount of family wealth comes from.  The site claims that Bokova has declined to comment on that, but she vehemently refused the allegations in a recent television interview, saying that the funds for properties come from her financial compensation at the U.N., although she was not specific from where exactly as her salary at the moment is less than $150,000.  Declarations of conflict of interest and income by UN personnel are not public record and the site Bivol claims that the body failed to respond to a request for information on Bokova’s declarations.  

Bokova’s presidency over UNESCO didn’t go very smoothly over the years. It was marked by numerous gaffs – ranging from non-transparent hiring of top employees to inefficiency, financial mismanagement and diplomatic inadequacy. Bokova, the first ever female in the role, has unfortunately completely failed to rise to the hopes placed upon her. Instead, her term in office has been a woeful mix of amorality and amateurism, which has led the worthy organization to the brink of disrepair and disrepute,” wrote the U.K. journalist Patrick Dawson in 2013 in a report published on politics.co.uk.

Nevertheless, Bokova’s campaign is in full swing and she is hopeful that she might have a good chance at being elected as the next UN Secretary-General. If it happens, many people in Bulgaria would consider this to be a huge PR disaster for the country. So far many petitions in Bulgaria have been initiated against her nomination but it is quite likely that the government will endorse her over another Bulgarian candidate – Kristalina Georgieva, a EU Commissioner.  Among other short-listed nominees for the post are Croatia’s Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic, also a woman. Men vying for the job include Vuk Jeremic, a former Serbian foreign minister, Danilo Turk, a former Slovenian president, and Srgjan Kerim, a former Macedonian foreign minister. Although Bokova is being backed by Russia and China, the political tensions between Russia and the United States might cost her the U.S. vote. There might be a possibility of deadlock over an Eastern European nominee, meaning that candidates from other regions (non-European WEOG and Latin America) are also being seriously considered.  But there are still many ambiguities in the upcoming political chess game surrounding her candidacy. 

There has been growing criticism of the opacity of the selection process for the U.N. Secretary-General, with calls for a more formal selection and appointment process in which candidates engage in more public discussions and debates over their views and platforms. Simon Chesterman, of the Singapore’s Straits Times has argued that for an organization as important as the UN “having its leader chosen by the lowest common denominator of what the P5 finds acceptable is not good enough.” And bottom line is whether the UN can allow itself to be really omnivorous when it comes to its biggest posts? Should the candidates’ past and political inclinations matter and should they be a factor in the selection process? The people, whom the UN is supposed to serve, will surely say “yes.”

Tatiana Christy is a journalist and political analyst. She is the former Managing Editor at the Institute for the Study of Conflict, Ideology & Policy at Boston University. She has published numerous articles on foreign and domestic policy. For years she worked as the Publisher of Bay Family Digest Magazine in  San Francisco. After selling it in 2006, she has been working as freelance journalist and as media & PR consultant.  She is a book author and an expert on Russia and Eastern Europe. Ms. Christy holds a Master’s degree in Journalism from Northeastern University in Boston and a Master's Degree in Slavic Languages.

Comments in Chronological order (18 total comments)

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Mon, February 01, 2016 02:45 PM (about 74204 hours ago)
Great artcile, bravo!
Mon, February 01, 2016 06:03 PM (about 74201 hours ago)
Great article, Tatiana! You will save the world. This is absolutely true:Bokova’s presidency over UNESCO didn’t go very smoothly over the years. It wa
Mon, February 01, 2016 07:05 PM (about 74200 hours ago)
Thanks for telling the truth to the world. :-
Mon, February 01, 2016 07:43 PM (about 74199 hours ago)
Thank you! Finally someone writing objectively about Irina Bokova
Mon, February 01, 2016 08:03 PM (about 74199 hours ago)
A very accurate analysis. The obsession with a woman UN SG per se is dangerous. It is crucial that a competent person of integrity is selected regardl
Mon, February 01, 2016 10:48 PM (about 74196 hours ago)
Down to the to the point and every very little detail. A very informative, facts proven article. BRAVO!
Tue, February 02, 2016 01:58 AM (about 74193 hours ago)
Not sure what's so great about the article, but one thing is sure: it seems that Bulgarians don't like other Bulgarians to succeed. It is not unique f
Tue, February 02, 2016 02:11 AM (about 74193 hours ago)
To previous commentator: You call Bokova a success? She is rather an aberration!
Tue, February 02, 2016 02:11 AM (about 74193 hours ago)
To previous commentator: You call Bokova a success? She is rather an aberration!
Tue, February 02, 2016 02:13 AM (about 74193 hours ago)
I have no doubts that any official, whether Bulgarian depute or UN high rank official, is prone to corruption and trade with influence, Irina Bokova b
Tue, February 02, 2016 11:56 AM (about 74183 hours ago)
over simplified paid article full of lies and misintepretations. How much did she get for it? Certainly she has never had a dissent publication and i
Tue, February 02, 2016 12:21 PM (about 74183 hours ago)
Communists are not Bulgarians or Russians or anything. They are international criminals
Tue, February 02, 2016 12:22 PM (about 74183 hours ago)
People like Bokova should at very least be publicly confronted ,condemned,and sent to live in Syberia,her favorite Soviet Union.Bulgarian public does
Tue, February 02, 2016 03:44 PM (about 74179 hours ago)
I don't want the Bulgarian government to nominate Bokova as a country's candidate. I am ashamed of her! She is deeply connected with the communist pas
Tue, February 02, 2016 04:04 PM (about 74179 hours ago)
I don't want the Bulgarian government to nominate Bokova as a country's candidate! I am ashamed of her! Bokova is deeply connected with the communist
Tue, February 02, 2016 04:16 PM (about 74179 hours ago)
The same leader that supports the dictator Assad is supporting her now!? What is that?!
Tue, February 02, 2016 04:20 PM (about 74179 hours ago)
Bokova went to Moskow when all the European leaders canceled their visits protesting this way against the Russian aggression in Crimea and Ukraine!
Tue, May 10, 2016 05:02 PM (about 71826 hours ago)
The same is in US !
The children of American's bilioners , as Georg Bush became a president , there political party is choosing them !
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