The UNESCO chief, the 64-year-old Bulgarian Irina Bokova has been confirmed by her government to be the official candidate of the country for the United Nations top job, after Ban Ki-moon steps down at the end of this year.
A former member of the Bulgarian Communist party, then a Socialist member of the Bulgarian parliament for two terms, a former Bulgarian foreign minister and UNESCO boss since 2009, Irina Bokova is the perfect epitome of the jet-set former Communist nomenklatura successfully converted to social-democracy after 1989. She is what is called a “red-diaper baby” — the scion of hardline Communist parents.
Although everybody agrees that it is time to have a woman at the helm of the UN, her candidacy remains controversial.
She is thus likely to encounter US opposition, after as UNESCO chief she pushed for the recognition of Palestine as a state. She also attended Putin’s World War II victory parade in Moscow last year, along with Cuban President Raul Castro and Chinese president Xi Jinping, while most governments and foreign institutions boycotted the event.
A perfect Russian speaker, like most Bulgarian intellectuals of her generation, Irina Bokova graduated from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations at a time, in the 1970s, when the former Bulgarian Communist dictator Todor Zhivkov strongly suggested that Bulgaria join the USSR as a 16th Soviet federal republic. At the Moscow State Institute, Bokova had as a colleague the current Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.
Both Putin and Lavrov would ideally like to have a UN Secretary-General who shares their views on the big international issues of the day, such as Syria and Ukraine.
The US and its allies wanted another candidate, possibly another Bulgarian: Kristalina Georgieva, the EU commissioner for international co-operation, humanitarian aid and crisis response.
With each of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, including Russia, holding the right to veto, the stage is set for an unprecedented battle.