UNESCO The hope of the world—on paper
This year and next two thousand people are spending sixty million dollars pursuing the lofty aims of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. They'll turn out millions of words, a few ideas, and they may get one or two things done. Maclean's overseas editor reports on the hopeful adventure that many critics are calling history's greatest boondoggle
Leslie F. Hannon
IN THE LIFETIME of most people reading this the United Nations will probably succeed in overtaking Washington or Moscow as the biggest bureaucracy on earth. Simply weighing words against deeds, it may well have achieved this dubious honor already. Among the thirtynine official UN organizations — they seem to have multiplied like wire hangers in a dark closet — are several word mills of unusual profligacy, hut one among them is really in a class by itself. For it, words are deeds. This memo-writer's daydream is called the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization — UNESCO.
It began in 1946 with a membership of twenty nations and a budget of two million dollars. Now it has 101 member nations and this year and next will spend about sixty million dollars.
Ehe secretariat stall now numbers eleven hundred. They are housed in a magnificent Yshaped, seven-story building in Paris that was completed less than three years ago and is already overcrowded. An additional building, to cost three-and-a-half million dollars, is under wav at Paris. UNESCO employs about a hundred men and women in field offices and gives annual contracts to a changing number of technical experts, perhaps 450 now. Most member states, including Canada, also appoint a permanent delegate to UNESCO, who usually has some clerical help, and in their homelands appoint a National Commission for UNESCO Affairs — Canada’s has twenty-eight members including a permanent stall of four.
Around the world, then, probably 2,000 people are engaged, full time, in furthering UNESCO’s aims. What aims?
Lord Attlee, when prime minister of Britain, was partly responsible for writing UNESCO’s theme song. At the founding conference in London he asked this rhetorical question: Do not wars, after all. begin in the minds of men? When UNESCO's constitution was put on paper its preamble began: "Since wars begin in the minds of men it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.”
Article One of the constitution reads: "The purpose of the organization is to contribute to peace and security by promoting collaboration among the nations through education, science and culture in order to further universal respect for justice, for the rule of law, and for the human rights and fundamental freedoms which are affirmed for the peoples of the world without distinction of race, sex, language or religion by the charter of the United Nations."
In the fifteen years since those words were written millions of other words have poured out of UNESCO on subjects as varied as the prostitutes of the Lebanon and the educational needs of the new African states, from the nuances of ancient Persian poetry to the irrigation of desert lands. Attempting to promote collaboration among the nations, UNESCO has produced a dizzying pile of reports, reviews, evaluations, directives, studies in depth, assessments, abstracts, programs, pamphlets, books, and film strips. The language used in these documents is peculiarly UNESCO's own. a blend that suggests action but which under a strong light too often melts into pious words. One can safely assume that after another fifteen years the pile of documentation will be at least twice as high and will in turn require more experts, more stenographers, more translators. more file clerks, more librarians; but it's fair to ask, will the defenses of peace be measurably stronger?
Almost since UNESCO first plunged into the task of building the intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind it has been harried by critics. There have been two kinds of continuing criticism: the first comes from governments eager to proclaim the four freedoms from international pulpits hut less than eager to apply them at home. South Africa, for instance, resigned from UNESCO ostensibly because of the alleged crackpot nature of the organization’s projects. "Flights into cloud cuckoo land,” was the opinion of Foreign Minister Eric Louw. A more cogent reason was UNESCO's flat rejection of white supremacy. In Canada the late Maurice Duplessis was a violent UNESCO critic; its education
policies advocate the separation of church and state.
The second and more piercing kind of criticism comes mostly from North America, with occasional assists from the United Kingdom. Often these critics have come to the conclusion that UNESCO is a modern Shangri-La for half-baked dreamers and a waste of the taxpayers' money. They have called UNESCO a cultural South Sea Bubble and the biggest boondoggle in recent history. The Manchester Guardian once headlined a scoffing story about a UNESCO conference on biology, held in the Andes, Sex At High Altitudes.
MATERIAL MIRACLES, YES; HUMAN ONES, NO
UNESCO doesn’t lack defenders, but the men and women attracted by its one-world concepts and its touching belief in the eventual victory of idealism over bigotry can seldom muster the pungent phrases that take the eye of city editors. The American poet and playwright Archibald MacLeish is one exception. Speaking of the need for UNESCO, he said, “It is a curious thing that men in our time are more walling to believe in the incredible miracles of matter than in the simplest miracles of the human spirit." This summer Heinrich Liibke, president of the German Federal Republic, said that UNESCO was contributing to the most imperative need of international policy, the maintenance of peace. Marcel Cadieux, Canada’s assistant undersecretary of state for external affairs, last year spoke of Canada's conviction that the work of UNESCO was of the greatest importance.
1 had absorbed all this acclaim and all the criticism before I went to UNESCO house in the blazing Paris CONTINUED ON PAGE 62
CONTINUED ON PAGE 62
Canada’s UNESCO commission has 28 members—a full-time staff of four— and a current budget of $90,000
HOPE OF THE WORLD continued from page 24
UNESCO in Africa: save the temples and educate seventeen million kids
summer. Like others before me. I wanted a simple unemotional answer to the question: What does UNESCO achieve? After some days in the cluttered offices and vaulted foyers of the secretariat building, and some hours listening on the English headset to the 24-nation executive board in regular session, 1 went home. and. risking my sanity, read through a suitcase full of UNESCO documents. 1 didn’t come up with a simple unemotional answer to my question. I think that any ten honest reporters could come up with ten honest but different answers. For instance, a man who believes illiteracy to be the world’s greatest sin applauds UNESCO’s current efforts in this held but deplores as criminal waste dollars spent on trying to rescue crumbling Egyptian statuary from the Nile. For what one man’s opinion is worth, I finally decided I agreed with a young Italian TV director who had asserted casually at the Cannes Film Festival a few weeks earlier that UNESCO is the perfect example of Parkinson’s Law, but it’s a hundred times better than nothing.
Certainly most of the UNESCO staffers I questioned were courteously impatient when pressed for concrete details of actual results; such demands, they indicate, reveal a misunderstanding of UNESCO’s purpose. They quote the remarks of Vittorino Veronese, the Italian lawyer who is UNESCO’s director-general, at the last biennial general conference. “Without in any way abandoning the organization’s principal duty, u'hich is to serve as a permanent centre for planning documentation, study, and research, we have made substantial and fairly striking progress toward practical action and direct aid of countries.’’ On a larger scale, practical action, that is action with concrete results, remains a deliberate second to the proliferating paper work.
“The important thing is ideas”
René Maheu, the fifty-six-year-old deputy director-general, says the reason much of UNESCO’s work cannot be measured in terms satisfying to those of practical mind is simply because it is concerned with the mind and not with the machine. Maheu is himself a creature of both worlds. He was head of a French news and feature agency before he became a professor of philosophy. “For UNESCO.” he says airily, “the important thing is the stimulation of ideas. Okay?" Okay. But in that case, what ideas?
While I was in Paris two of UNESCO’s main preoccupations were with a major plan to attack black Africa’s eighty-five percent illiteracy, and a scheme to save a cluster of Egyptian temples which would otherwise be covered by water when the high dam on the Nile is complete. The education project grew out of a decision taken at the general conference last December. UNESCO studies had revealed that in the large area loosely called tropical Africa, from Ethiopia to the Congo, from Senegal to Madagascar, about seventeen million children have no opportunity to go to school at all. Another eight million children get some primary education, but only 260,000 go on to secondary schools and not more than 10.000 rise to university or high technical levels. Africa's over-all illiteracy rate is nearly double the average world figure.
UNESCO’s first move was to contact all the states and territories directly involved, and the European powers who still
hold interests in the area, and ask them to begin an inventory of educational needs. Then, in the middle of last May, UNESCO in conjunction with the UN Economic Commission for Africa called a conference in Addis Ababa to co-ordinate all the individual requests into a large-scale plan.
After ten days of meetings all thirty-one of the African delegations who attended the conference, plus four European powers with interests in Africa, unanimously adopted two ambitious schemes — a fiveyear plan and a twenty-year plan. The first seeks to raise the primary school enrolment in Africa to sixteen percent by 1965 and the secondary school enrolment to nine percent. The long-term scheme aims at universal primary education by 1980 and for thirty percent of all children to go on to secondary schools. It’shoped that a modest two percent w'ill reach university. The over-all cost of the five-year plan alone is estimated at more than four billion dollars, of which one-and-a-half billions would have to come from outside sources. Cost of the long-term plan would reach a peak in 1970 when the annual deficit would be one billion dollars. At the end of the project period in 1980 the deficit would still be running at 400 million dollars a year.
The conclusions were inscribed on parchment as the Addis Ababa Plan, and the delegates went home content. In fact, though, they had committed their various governments to nothing but approval of an inspiring proposal. Again UNESCO’s critics ask. was anything really achieved? Any problem actually solved? Haven’t we taxpayers, as contributors to UNESCO's budget, simply paid for yet another farflung conference for yet another ribbonbound report? By rough arithmetic the total outside contribution could run as high as six billion dollars. How' can UNESCO hope to raise this fantastic sum?
Consider UNESCO’s' basic two - year budget. The biggest single item in it will cost only three-and-a-half million dollars. Special grants from UN funds under the Technical Assistance Program, EPTA, and from the UN money pool for sparking economic development in underdeveloped countries, were already committed before the Addis Ababa Plan was written. UNESCO can. of course, through its UN parent the Economic and Social Council, ask the General Assembly to cough up. but Dag Hammarskjöld’s purse is notoriously thin. UNESCO seems to be pinning its hopes on individual donations from sympathetic rich governments and private foundations. At the end of July it had $1,400.000 in the kitty plus promises of about a hundred fellowships for training teachers from small countries. The big spenders, the U. S., U. K., West Germany, Russia, France, and Canada had yet to be heard from. Construction of a textbook centre in Yaoundé, Cameroons, has been authorized at a cost of $400,000 and more detailed surveys of education needs are already under way in Upper Volta and Sierra Leone.
The observer must conclude, however, that UNESCO is a long country mile from even the one-and-a-half billion dollars required for the five-year plan, and some light years away from the twentyyear target.
Another contemporary example of UNESCO at work is offered by the controversial scheme to stir the world into saving at least some of the ancient Nubian
temples. It’s an example, too. of the serene breadth of UNESCO vision. At the same time that it is nagging the world to help pull Africa out of the Dark Ages, it’s appealing for millions to preserve the relics of antiquity. Thirty-two hundred years ago Raineses, the legendary oppressor of the Hebrews, caused two temples to be cut into the rock on the Nile bank at Abu Simbel, fronted by seven-foot statues of himself. When the high dam is completed in 1968 Abu Simbel will lie under 190 feet of water. A UNESCO committee came up with tw'o plans, one for a semicircular dam to keep the Nile at bay, the other a seemingly fantastic plan to jack the temple up to dry ground. The second plan was approved. It calls for the main temple, which is estimated to weigh about 300,000 tons, to be cut out of the rock and encased in a concrete box. The box will then be raised millimetre by millimetre by huge jacks one - hundred - and -
ninety feet during a period of three years. The cost of the whole salvage campaign will run around 75 million dollars. It is slated to get under w'ay in January, but the money is far far from being in the till.
Other dozens of UNESCO schemes fill a two-pound book called the Approved Program and Budget that reads with all the zip and style of the Montreal phone book. It lists teacher training studies in Latin America, studies on trying to bring Hast and West into better understanding of each other’s culture, on trying to solve problems of perpetual drought, on fostering international co-operation among specialists, on increasing the exchange of information. 'It also lists 1,700 men and women traveling and studying this year on UNESCO fellowships. A Cambodian was recently in the Canadian Maritimes studying fishing co-ops.
All these projects keep UNESCO House
buzzing like a multilingual beehive. The worker bees and the drones pack six floors of small offices in the secretariat building fronting the Place de Fontenoy. Two and even three experts share these offices with encroaching stacks of documents. The firealarm bell would instantly till the corridors with a stream of men and women from half a hundred nations. An old UNESCO hand draws this picture: half of them w'ould be clutching the last pile of paper to reach them: the other half would be hoping their in-baskets would be the first to burn. After a few days around this
bureaucratic beehive an outsider is tempted to put a bare third in the second category.
An apocryphal story is told of the egghead sent by UNESCO to a pocket-handkerchief country to draw up a report. He returned and holed-up in the office. Weeks, months and then years passed while he typed, dictated, reflected, revised and started over. One day the awful news filtered through that the subject country had ceased to exist; a neighboring dictator had snapped it up. With fastidious ceremony the expert tidied his moraine of papers, aligned his pencils neatly on his
blotter, then shot himself. He left one simple request: that his report be buried with him.
Messengers ceaselessly walk the UNESCO corridors, take elevators up and elevators down, depositing an armful of papers on a desk and picking up a seemingly identical armful in exchange. They remind one of Kafka’s prisoners.
What on earth are all the papers about? A department chief has a report prepared on his specialty, which is perhaps the education of defectives. He orders ten copies for his associates. They don’t read them.
but keep them for a polite few days before in turn routing them on to someone else. UNESCO’s worker bees do their best to thin out the paper jungle. “If an expert spends two or three years here he becomes a bureaucrat,” says Vladimir Martynovsky, a Moscow-born mechanical engineer who is deputy-director of the technical education department. "It is of course necessary to learn the problems of administration, but then a man must get out. Some people justify their existence with reports.” Martynovsky spent most of the last five years establishing technological institutes at Calcutta and Bombay. Soon he will be returning to his alma mater at Odessa, where he hopes to continue a personal quest to develop a cheap, simplified refrigerator, one that would require no more power than a transistor radio. He runs a hand through gray-flecked hair. “Think how such a machine could raise living standards in the hot countries.”
Pierre Taltasse. a thirty-nine-year-old French hydrogeologist w'ith all the zest and energy of a rising corporation executive, is penned in an office learning about the organization of missions. On a UNESCO contract he spent five years studying the scant water resources of the northeastern shoulder of Brazil. He and others, at UNESCO expense, trained a cadre of young Brazilians in hydrogeology, a science that simply didn’t exist in Brazil. His reports and suggestions on how what slight rainfall there is could be conserved to grow more cotton, maize, and rice were usually pigeonholed by the Brazilian authorities in Rio, where the enormously wealthy absentee landlords lived. “For years I carried a cross,” the hydrogeologist says, clutching a shoulder in mock woe. Lately Taltasse is hopeful that President Jânio Quadros can break through and put the UNESCO recommendation to work. Taltasse himself is counting the days before he leaves on a new field assignment to the desert hinterland of Peru.
The intellectual and cultural nature of most UNESCO endeavors is almost a guarantee that UNESCO will seldom hit the headlines in the popular press. It’s a fair bet that most people would falter if asked to spell out its full titles, as perhaps they would with the IEC, the FAO, the WMO, the IMF, all of the United Nations agencies. This was foreseen by the UNESCO founders, and they widened the organization’s constitution to encourage the formation in the homelands of the member states of separate national commissions for UNESCO. Most member states, including Canada, have established commissions. Some are very active, others practically dormant. Apart from trying to enlist popular support for UNESCO, the commissions are supposed to associate interested national bodies with UNESCO’s work, to advise their respective governments and delegations to the General UN Conference on pertinent matters, and to function as liaison agencies and information outlets.
Canada’s commission, currently headed by J. F. Leddy, dean of arts and sciences at the University of Saskatchewan, maintains a permanent secretariat in Ottawa under secretary Eugene Bussiere. Both Bussiere and his associate secretary, Lewis Perinbam, visited Paris on UNESCO business in the last year, and other Canadian delegates traveled to UNESCO meetings in Geneva. Copenhagen, Zagreb, Moscow, Tokyo, and Manila. The Canadian commission’s current budget totals ninety thousand dollars of which thirty-five thousand is provided by the Canada Council specifically for staff salaries and office overhead. Where does the rest of the money go? Fifteen hundred dollars went last year to pay part of the cost of producing a film
dealing with UNESCO projects in Southeast Asia. The National Museum collected two hundred to help pay for a lecturer to accompany an Indonesian orchestra on a visit to Canada. The United Nations Association provided twenty-five hundred to distribute UNESCO publications. Just how these activities help construct the defenses of peace in the minds of men is anybody’s guess.
With its current emphasis on education and technical assistance for the backward nations, UNF'SCO seems to have left a lot of its teething problems behind. Those Huxley years, as a UNESCO executive labeled them — Julian Huxley, the first UNESCO director-general, and poet T. S. Eliot once staged a courteously acrimonious debate on the meaning of the w'ord culture — are gone. Gone, too, are plans to search out an international philosophy and to establish a garden of Eden in the Amazon basin. Nothing has been heard for years of the harlots of the Lebanon. The once routine scoffing articles in the popular press are rarer today. UNESCO is more exacerbated, though never publicly, by the determination of some countries to go it alone with their foreign aid programs in the cultural field. The UNESCO
experts would rather see the money spent in individual ventures than not at all. but experienced administrators bleed inwardly at the thought of duplicate organizations being set up in needy areas, of inexperienced men wasting time and cash trying to unravel foreign situations that are simply beyond their experience or competence. Britain often prefers to act unilaterally, perhaps for prestige reasons. In Africa she alloted fourteen million dollars for colleges in Nigeria a week after UNESCO’s Addis Ababa plan was published.
Canada’s recent government program to spend three hundred thousand dollars to help the French-speaking republics in Africa was regarded here unofficially as a payoff to internal French-Canadian opinion. The remarks of H. O. Moran, director of-Canada's external aid office, that our present appropriation of three and a half million dollars for aid to Commonwealth countries in Africa was too large were read by the experts at the Place de Fontenoy with a mixture of shock and awe. Then they turned with a deep sigh to the latest pile of documents, it