Unesco - 70 Years Of Peacekeeping

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The deliberate destruction of cultural heritage in Afghanistan, Iraq, Mali and Syria has been condemned as a war crime by UNESCO - the 'intellectual' agency of the United Nations. But aside from issuing statements, what can this organisation achieve?

Culture writer Charlotte Higgins explores the UN's peacekeeping agency, established 70 years ago to build peace through education, science and culture. Its founders knew that a safer world could not be engineered through economics or politics alone. With optimism and purpose, they called on countries to pull together to inspire hearts and minds.

Today, UNESCO is best known for World Heritage, which promotes a sense of collective identity. Yet with attacks on ancient sites now at the frontline of conflicts, UNESCO's soft power is in the spotlight.

"I know that we don't have an army, we cannot deploy troops," says Director General Irina Bokova, "I wish we could have a stronger way of doing something."

Charlotte navigates UNESCO HQ in Paris, a modernist expression of post war ambition. Here, members of staff can recite the ringing first sentence of UNESCO's constitution by heart: "Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed." Even so, UNESCO struggles to keep its 195 member states around the table, most notably with the United States - the biggest contributor to the budget - withholding payment since Palestine joined. As the geopolitical situation mutates and fragments, Charlotte asks whether the intellectual peacekeepers can keep up.

Contributors

Jens Boel, Chief Archivist, UNESCO

Irina Bokova, Director General, UNESCO

Sandra Maughan, Greencarts BnB, Northumberland

Henry Owen-John, Head of International Advice, Historic England

Dacia Viejo Rose, University Lecturer, Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge

Mechtild Rössler, Director of the World Heritage Centre, UNESCO

JP Singh, Chair of Culture and Political Economy, Edinburgh Univeristy

Peter Stone, UNESCO Chair in Cultural Property Protection and Peace, Newcastle University

Produced by Dorothy Feaver

A Cast Iron Radio production for BBC Radio 4.