We have all heard the jocular remark about the inmates taking over the asylum. But I had never actually witnessed that unnerving event until last October 31, when I spent an afternoon in the press gallery of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in Paris. The vast conference hall was not quite a madhouse, but it was noisy, agitated, and full of wild surmise. Hundreds of delegates from member states milled about, chattering excitedly as the president of UNESCO’s biennial general conference plaintively called for them to take their seats and get on with the business at hand. To wit, voting on a request by the Palestinian Authority for membership—and with it, the first recognition of its statehood by a United Nations agency.
The stakes were high. In its quest for statehood without making concessions to Israel, the PA had applied for full membership in the UN in September, but it was obvious that the U.S. would veto that ploy in the Security Council. So PA President Mahmoud Abbas was targeting a weak link in the UN system where the veto does not exist. He knew that UNESCO, with its fuzzy cultural mandate, was as open to political manipulation now as it had been when it was an ideological battlefield in the Cold War.
The U.S. had made abundantly clear that, due to laws dating from the 1990s, admitting Palestine to any UN agency would mean an immediate cutoff of American funding. In UNESCO’s case, this amounted to fully 22 percent of its budget. There was no leeway for interpretation, no possibility of waiving the laws’ provisions. Perversely, that seemed only to sharpen the delegates’ appetite for admitting Palestine. As the roll was called, it became obvious that they relished thumbing their collective nose at the U.S. and the handful of member states that held this was the wrong place to decide Palestinian statehood. Cheers greeted votes in favor by delegations from Africa, South America, the Middle East, Russia, China, and, of course, France. Joining the fun was the ambassador from Uzbekistan, the beauteous 32-year-old Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, socialite daughter of President Islam Karimov, whose use of torture against dissidents, including boiling to death, the UN itself has termed “systematic.”
A sprinkling of moans or boos rippled through the assembly when the U.S., Germany, Holland, and a few others voted against. The president repeatedly called for a bit of decorum. Not a chance: now the grinning, gibbering, gesticulating inmates had indeed taken over. The final vote was 107 in favor to 14 against, with 52 abstentions. For anyone who still believed in UNESCO’s mission, it was an appalling spectacle. With that frivolous, self-defeating act, UNESCO signaled to the world that, once again, it was becoming the UN’s over-politicized rogue agency.
IT WAS A LOSE-LOSE MOVE both for Palestine and UNESCO itself. After the grandstanding, Palestine was no closer to statehood and possibly further away, hardening positions and jeopardizing the peace process. “It was an extremely reckless and callous move by Abbas,” one dismayed Western ambassador to UNESCO told me later. “There are no winners in this. Abbas has alienated some of his most important supporters.” The State Department and both parties in Congress quickly denounced the vote. As Texas Republican Kay Granger, chair of the House State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, had warned, “I have made it clear to the Palestinian leadership that I would not support sending U.S. taxpayer money to the Palestinians if they sought statehood at the United Nations. There are consequences for short-cutting the process, not only for the Palestinians, but for our longstanding relationship with the United Nations.”
UNESCO immediately began suffering those consequences, starting with the loss of America’s contribution of about $80 million to its budget for last year, for 2012, and perhaps indefinitely. “We have to take drastic action and take it now,” the director general, Irina Bokova, said unhappily. “We are reviewing all activities in all areas, including staff travel, publications, communication costs, meetings, and the rest.” Some 20 of its 57 field offices might have to be closed.
It is paying the logical price for letting politics trump its cultural/educational mandate, and demonstrating that UNESCO lends itself, systemically, to this kind of abuse. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, as the man said, and this fiasco reminded me of the bad old days of the 1980s. UNESCO was then a hotbed of vicious anti-Western ideology complete with strident condemnations of America. Instead of concentrating on fostering “full and equal opportunities for education for all, in the unrestricted pursuit of objective truth, and in the free exchange of ideas and knowledge,” it became a political tool wielded by the Third World and the Soviet bloc. “If you don’t like what we are proposing,” an African delegate once shouted at Westerners, “we will jam it down your throats until you choke!”
One notorious program promoted a socialist-lining New International Economic Order. Its undeclared purpose was to redistribute Western wealth to a global welfare state; private enterprise was dismissed as “an economy of waste.” Educational grants were funding violent Marxist movements like the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Soviet-armed South-West Africa People’s Organization. Another wayward project was euphemistically called Communication in the Service of Man. In reality it promoted a New World Information and Communication Order with state licensing and codes of correct conduct for newsmen. When in 1983 France expelled 47 KGB spies, a dozen were under cover at UNESCO.
The director general was one Amadou-Mahtar M’Bow, a volatile, irascible Senegalese who ran it like a profitable personal fief. Official funds were used to stroke his supporters. All job appointments and promotions were personally approved by him and based on ideology and nationality. When a planned U.S. audit of financial irregularities was announced, a mysterious fire destroyed key files. Disgusted and demoralized, competent senior staff fled, one protesting in writing “the destruction of professionalism.” The U.S., too, left: Ronald Reagan finally had enough and pulled America out of UNESCO in 1984.
WITH NO PERCEPTIBLE REPERCUSSIONS on American citizens except tax savings, it stayed out for 19 years. In 2003, George W. Bush took us back in “as a symbol of our commitment to human dignity.” The organization had been reformed, he noted hopefully at the time, “and America will participate fully in its mission to advance human rights and tolerance and learning.” Laura Bush later became, and remains, a UNESCO goodwill ambassador. After all, idealistic America has always been an important part of this organization with utopian visions, beginning with its creation. The first American member of the executive board, the writer Archibald MacLeish, wrote the high-flown preamble to UNESCO’s constitution: “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.”
Today it has grown to 195 member states, more than any other multinational organization including the UN itself. Its staff of some 2,000 toil in half-a-dozen buildings at its sprawling Paris headquarters and field offices. They handle a biennial budget of $653 million, plus millions more in extra-budgetary contributions. At its best, it can be useful for monitoring and standard-setting in fields like education, science, and information. Member-state delegations I spoke with voiced many complaints about UNESCO—especially its growing politicization—but mostly like its education programs. American officials generally praise its efforts for universal literacy and clean water, women’s education, and disaster preparedness. One of its largest American-supported education projects is in Afghanistan, with literacy centers for both civilians and Afghan police officers.
Membership can also be good for American business. Companies like Apple, Cisco, Intel, Google, and Microsoft are cooperating with UNESCO because it opens access to global markets. As David T. Killion, U.S. ambassador to the organization, told me, “We think there are critical American interests at stake here: moral, cultural, national security, even economic interests. We think this is a strategic piece of real estate in the international system. It can get us to places we couldn’t get to otherwise.”
But Killion has been publicly critical of the political manipulation that goes on. Formerly a leading voice on international organizations with the House Foreign Affairs Committee, he made the rounds of delegations trying to dissuade them from voting for Palestinian admission. During the executive board’s debate on the question he took the floor to express America’s “strong opposition.” He added, “We are profoundly disappointed that this issue has injected a difficult political issue into this organization, and believe that it has the potential to undermine severely the organization’s ability to carry out its critical mandate.” In 2010, he protested UNESCO’s tendency to single out Israel for criticism. “This undermines UNESCO’s credibility,” he said. “The U.S. strongly encourages the executive board to seek an alternative to highly politicized decisions and seemingly permanent agenda items focused only on one country.”
If the organization keeps hammering Israel, it is due to its aggressive Arab-African regional bloc of members. Its influence over UNESCO can be seen in ways large and small.
There was the scandal over World Philosophy Day. UNESCO inexplicably decided the 2010 conference would be held in Tehran, capital of that beacon of free thought, Iran—an inexcusable choice by an organization supposedly dedicated to freedom and human rights. Shocked academics around the world declared a boycott, calling the confab a propaganda exercise for a brutal regime. “It’s as if they decided to hold a philosophy conference in Berlin in 1938—with Goebbels as its head!” said Dr. Ramin Jahanbegloo, an expatriate Iranian philosopher teaching at the University of Toronto. Backpedaling, an embarrassed UNESCO first said the conference would go ahead as scheduled, then tried to dissociate itself from events in Teheran by holding a parallel meeting in Paris. Confusion all around, along with red faces.
UNESCO’s warped attitude toward Israel showed again in its ham-fisted condemnation last fall of a political cartoon. Published in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, it depicted Premier Benjamin Netanyahu and his defense minister briefing pilots before an imaginary attack on Iran, telling them to target UNESCO’s office in the West Bank on their way back—a joking reference to Netanyahu’s anger over the admission of Palestine. Within hours, a UNESCO assistant director general solemnly summoned Israeli Ambassador Nimrod Barkan and handed him an overwrought official protest saying, preposterously, that the cartoon “endangers the lives of unarmed diplomats.” Barkan merely reminded him that Israel enjoys a free press. “We’ve heard of Islamists raging against supposedly disrespectful cartoons,” an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman commented, “but UN officials going down the same road, that’s a whole new ballgame.”
THAT BLUNDER WAS ONLY a peccadillo compared with the ludicrous mess last year over filling an opening on the UNESCO committee that deals with human rights issues. The mind-boggling choice: Syria. No matter that the UN’s own High Commissioner for Human Rights recommends that the regime of Bashar al-Assad be prosecuted in the International Criminal Court in The Hague for crimes against humanity. That includes slaughtering some 5,000 demonstrators, including 300 children, and arresting 14,000 in its recent crackdown on opposition protests.
This grotesquerie was created by manipulating the organization’s skewed procedural rules. Syria was elected to the executive board two years ago, and all members have the right to sit on its committees. Once the Arab bloc decided for its own reasons to put Syria on human rights, it was a done deal. “It’s shameful for the UN’s prime agency on science, culture, and education to take a country that is shooting its own people and empower it to decide human rights issues on a global scale,” says Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based UN Watch, an independent human rights monitoring group. Commented Florida Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, “UNESCO continues to outdo itself with stunning displays of irresponsible and dangerous behavior. The selection of Syria to serve on a UNESCO committee responsible for human rights is an affront to those suffering at the hands of tyrants all around the world. The Administration must continue to follow U.S. law and withhold funds to UNESCO so our tax dollars are not used to support this increasingly irresponsible agency.”
Attempting to distance itself from the gaffe, UNESCO quietly let it be known that Director General Bokova actually disapproved of the choice but had her hands tied. That only underscored that Bokova, a soft-spoken, graying, grandmotherly lady of 60, has a tiger by the tail. In reality the organization is run by the volatile, unpredictable, pliant general conference, and the 58-member executive board that sets the conference agenda. The Arab-African bloc has an automatic 20 votes on the board, and can easily find another 10 from emerging nations for a majority to push through policies predictably anti-Western, or utterly irrational, like the vote on Palestine. However well-intentioned, Bokova is powerless to control or prevent its rogue actions.
Elected in 2009 as UNESCO’s first woman director general, Bokova was a member of Bulgaria’s Socialist—formerly Communist—Party, as well as ambassador to France and UNESCO itself. She had served as Bulgaria’s foreign minister under Premier Zhan Videnov, who did little to clean up the country’s post-communist cesspool of organized crime and corruption. She is a convert to press freedom—she certainly did not learn it from her father, who edited Bulgaria’s main, party-lining communist newspaper. Like many of the privileged of her generation, she studied at Moscow’s State Institute of International Relations, later doing stints at the University of Maryland and Harvard. “I am from this cold war generation that lived through this period; we didn’t choose it,” Bokova told the New York Times defensively before her election. “I have nothing to be ashamed of.”
Her election was symptomatic of the penchant of multilateral organizations for choosing the least common denominator. She is certainly not the strong, decisive leader UNESCO needs to keep the rambunctious executive board and general conference from riding roughshod over it. But in one respect at least, Bokova’s election helped UNESCO avoid another spectacular calamity.
Her only rival for the position, backed by the Arab-African bloc, was the Egyptian culture minister Farouk Hosny. Hosny’s record for promoting culture and defending human rights was of the Middle Eastern variety. He had declared he would personally burn any Jewish book found in Egypt’s great Alexandria library. He also boasted he had helped organize the 1985 escape of the Palestine Liberation Front hijackers of the Achille Lauro cruise ship, the charmers who shot the disabled American Leon Klinghoffer and shoved him overboard in his wheelchair. This being UNESCO, Hosny almost became its director. Arm-twisting and threatening, Egypt and its allies on the executive board managed to push the election to five rounds of voting—unprecedented in the organization’s history—before Bokova narrowly won. That a thug like Hosny could come within a hair of UNESCO’s top job speaks volumes.
ITS STATE PRIORITIES are also revealing. Number one on the official list is Africa, followed by gender equality. Only then come proper core activities like education, ethics, and intercultural dialogue. So no one should be surprised if the African tail wags the UNESCO dog. Official documents are peppered with the phrase “especially in Africa.” Its Cultural Commission considers that intercultural dialogue mainly means raising awareness of the slave trade, slavery, and the African diaspora. The general conference last November proudly expressed its official satisfaction with the publication of the eight-volume General History of Africa, “making this masterpiece of UNESCO one of the major intellectual achievements of the 20th century [sic].”
This order of priorities can lead to the occasional crack-up. Most spectacular in recent memory was the $3 million UNESCO Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences, set up in 2008. Never awarded, it was suspended in 2010 after protests ranging from Nobel laureates and press freedom groups to human rights defenders around the world. How could such a generous, euphonious, impressively named prize with the worthy goal of encouraging scientific research cause such a brouhaha?
Consider the donor. President Obiang, who has ruled Equatorial Guinea with a despotic hand since taking power in a coup 30 years ago, is justly renowned for rigged elections, arrest and murder of opposition leaders, muzzling the press, and what a UN special rapporteur termed “inhuman conditions” and “systematic torture” in the country’s prisons. Along with this goes, naturally, unabashed corruption in the use of the country’s abundant oil wealth for himself and his family. Appropriately enough, the $3 million prize money was delivered to UNESCO in cash.
When protests over this transparent attempt to improve a brutal dictator’s image became too embarrassing, Bokova called for the prize to be withdrawn in 2010 and said she would not be involved with it. Furious backroom politicking followed. Western diplomats, typically scared of looking colonialist or, quelle horreur, anti-African, took a back seat and left it to the sub-Saharans to annul the prize and return the money, presumably in small-denomination banknotes. The Arabs said they would support any decision by the Africans. Those worthies said the prize must be awarded.
There things stand, with UNESCO still holding the $3 million—Obiang refuses to take it back—and scheduled to take up the question again in April. Bokova, being against the prize after being for it, was left looking compromised. As a longtime secretariat member told me privately, “There was a very strong feeling here that it was wrong to accept it, just as we were against admitting Palestine. But these things get done anyway, despite what we feel is right.” Clearly out of control, it’s anyone’s guess what this outfit’s next caper might be.
Compared with the missteps of priority Africa, priority gender equality looks innocent enough. Of course women and girls should be taught to read and write, and UNESCO has programs in that field. And they should certainly be protected from discrimination, though it’s hard to see what UNESCO does about that except preach the good word. But in its effort to please feminist zealots, the organization inevitably ends up looking more than a bit silly. As when it slavishly altered UNESCO’s slogan to read, “Building peace in the minds of men and women.”
It has become a one-stop shop for everything on the feminists’ shopping list, plus some pleasant surprises. Do media women in the Maghreb need courses in “gender sensitive scriptwriting”? It held a workshop in Casablanca for that. Do downtrodden female philosophers need to “write free from the looming gaze of an imaginary, universal, male reader”? There’s a Women Philosophers’ Journal where they can. And while writing, they can refer to the UNESCO “Guidelines on Gender-Neutral Language” pamphlet, with its gross cartoons showing male chauvinists ruthlessly dominating helpless females. It is surely helpful to women raising children amid poverty and disease to know that “human power” is better than “manpower,” “wife and husband” preferable to “man and wife,” “intrepid child” tops “tomboy.”
OF ALL UNESCO’s countless programs, the World Heritage List is by far the best known. The 936 properties in 153 countries, including 21 in the U.S. from Yellowstone to the Statue of Liberty, are selected as being “of outstanding universal value.” When the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage was adopted in 1972, it was to ensure that important natural and manmade sites were not wantonly endangered—a worthy cause to be sure.
But today UNESCO has twisted its meaning to satisfy as many of its client activists as possible. The new slogan of its flagship program is World Heritage and Sustainable Development, thereby pleasing the greens and those who view UNESCO primarily as an economic development, not cultural, agency. (Just for the record, culture properly understood has nothing whatever to do with economic development, as many an impecunious writer can attest.) As Irina Bokova said in a recent speech announcing the upcoming 40th anniversary celebrations of the convention, “Heritage stands at the crossroads of climate change, social transformations and processes of reconciliation between peoples. Heritage carries high stakes—for the identity and belonging of peoples, for the sustainable economic and social development of communities.” Anybody feel left out?
To be sure, with a headquarters staff of 80 running the program, the World Heritage Committee can sometimes help avoid damage to important sites. When in 1995 Egypt planned a new highway near the Giza Pyramids which might have blighted the site, negotiations with the Egyptian government found a solution. And when the archaeological site of Delphi in Greece was threatened by plans for an aluminum plant nearby, the Greek government was persuaded to find another location.
But many observers are increasingly unhappy with the way the World Heritage Committee operates. They accuse it of inappropriate politicization and, ultimately, corruption of its original mandate. This came to light publicly at the general conference last November, when the Estonian ambassador, Marten Kokk, stood up and said aloud what many insiders were thinking. “We regret to say,” he declared, “that the increasing operational problems and politicization of the World Heritage Committee compromise the credibility of the  Convention and the World Heritage List.” He also criticized conflicts of interest on the committee, with members abusing their positions to win selection of candidate sites in their home countries.
Interviews with other delegations made clear what Kokk was concerned about. “Several delegations are unhappy with the way the Committee is selecting sites for its list,” the ambassador of one Nordic country told me. (Delegations I interviewed insisted on anonymity when voicing criticism.) “Too often, the decision is made not on the grounds of a site’s historical or aesthetic value, but for political reasons. As a result, the committee’s choices diverge more and more frequently from the professional advice of the outside experts who make recommendations. This is against the very raison d’être of the 1972 Convention.” A member of a different delegation, who sat on the committee for four years, confirmed this. “It’s clear that, for political reasons, the World Heritage Committee is not complying with the recommendations of the experts in selecting sites,” he said. “There are many obvious cases. We regret this very much.” A recent report by an external auditor confirms the program’s corruption. It notes that in one recent year, six candidate sites that the experts did not find “of outstanding universal value” were selected as heritage sites anyway for political and economic reasons.
MEMBER STATES OBVIOUSLY consider that it is worth doing whatever necessary to get as many World Heritage sites as possible. They mean prestige, jobs, and economic development in the form of increased tourism. Travel agencies tout package tours focused on World Heritage-listed sites, manna from heaven for poor countries. “Is the World Heritage Committee politicized?” asked one disabused Western ambassador I talked with. “Everything at the UN is politicized. Should the committee be overturning the recommendations of the experts? Absolutely not, and we have to put pressure on member states not to do that anymore.” A committee official says that it is now considering the growing criticism and issuing new operational guidelines. “We hope these reforms will correct anomalies,” he says, without explaining how.
Some locations with World Heritage sites are learning that it’s not an unmixed blessing. The German city of Dresden, known for its splendid baroque and rococo architecture, won heritage status in 2004 for its restored city center including palaces, churches, opera houses, and museums. Then in 2006 UNESCO’s culture police frowned on the city fathers’ decision to build a four-lane bridge across the river Elbe, more than a mile away from the historic center. They gravely “delisted” the city in 2009 for refusing to obey orders not to build. The citizens of Dresden now enjoy their new bridge and somehow continue to thrive in one of Germany’s fastest-growing cities.
Latest target of UNESCO intrusion is Liverpool. The English city on the Mersey, home of the Beatles, founded in 1207, was granted World Heritage status in 2004. Alas, a three-day visit by UNESCO inspectors last fall concluded with the warning that it would lose its status unless it made radical changes to the $9 billion Liverpool Waters project to regenerate its northern docklands. The project, a half-mile from the historic center, includes offices, a shopping mall, cruise liner terminal, and other job-creating features. “This project is absolutely vital for the future of the city,” the head of the Liverpool city council, Joe Anderson, told me on the phone. “We have a 29 percent unemployment rate, and this will create jobs both now and for generations to come. Plans dating back 100 years show our forefathers wanted a similar docklands development. And now we have these outsiders trying to tell us how to shape our city.” He still hopes for a compromise, but Liverpudlians will get their new docklands.
The intrusions can get worse. Maladroitly designating a World Heritage site can actually spark warfare, a rather serious unintended consequence for an organization striving for a “culture of peace.” That happened on the Cambodia-Thailand border after the Preah Vihear temple was selected in July 2008 in response to a Cambodian request. This reignited a longstanding border dispute over that area. Within weeks the first Thai and Cambodian soldiers were being killed in firefights, while thousands of civilians fled. The 1,000-year-old temple itself was damaged. The military standoff continues while the International Court of Justice considers the case.
Meanwhile, UNESCO’s boffins recently created a functionary’s dream: a program that is, literally, infinite. If you liked physical, measurable World Heritage, they reasoned, you’ll love the intangible heritage that can exist simply in the minds and habits of certain people. This can mean everything from oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, quaint rituals and festivities, to “knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe.”
There are already 267 intangible heritage items, but, as an expansive program official explains, “There exist in the world thousands, even billions of potential practices that could be on the list. It’s unlimited and infinite. The only limit is our capacity to handle it.” You can bet that will be growing. Meanwhile, recent additions include the Mibu no Hana Taue rice planting ritual in Japan, Mexico’s mariachi music, French cooking and horseback-riding, and Croatia’s Nijemo Kolo, a silent circle dance from the hinterland of Dalmatia. The only really important heritage ritual still missing from the list is the Texas Two-Step, though it does unfortunately involve a man leading a woman.
LESS THAN A DECADE after the U.S. rejoined, UNESCO, with the Palestinian flag now flying at its headquarters, has shown convincingly that it is back to its old political games. Whatever the best intentions of the secretariat, political infighting will always trump good works. Africa, the Middle East, and the emerging nations own it. They may individually contribute 1 percent or less to the budget, but their vote equals America’s. Without weighted voting according to contributions, or some safety valve like the UN’s Security Council, they will stay in the driver’s seat. It is unrealistic to think the U.S. can significantly influence UNESCO’s direction, as the futile campaign to block the admission of Palestine shows.
The organization does have worthwhile programs in literacy, tsunami warning systems, clean water, post-disaster relief, and others. But unlike some other UN agencies that occasionally have quantifiable, visible results, most of UNESCO’s activities are impossible to assess objectively and are oriented to pleasing its activist clients. Moreover, in the absence of any sunset clauses, vested interests can keep asinine or downright undesirable programs, all with overwhelmingly self-important names, running indefinitely.
Britain, far more tough-minded toward ineffective UN agencies than the Obama administration, did its own independent assessment of UNESCO last year. Among other failings, the study found it “is unable to identify its impact. Systematic results reporting and evaluation is not adequately practiced.… UNESCO is under-delivering significantly in its leadership of the education sector.… Long-lasting historic underperformance now means much of UNESCO’s mandate is often done elsewhere.” Without improvement, the UK threatens to cut its funding, as it has already to UN Habitat, the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, and the International Labor Organization.
Do useful programs in education and the like require a heavy, inept, expensive international bureaucracy? Or could unilateral foreign aid, along with ad hoc groupings of nations, nongovernmental organizations, and corporate sponsors do the job more efficiently?
The question is rapidly becoming academic for the U.S. By cutting off its funding to UNESCO, America has de facto begun heading for the exit. It is not an option to humiliatingly lose all moral authority there by trying to remain a member without paying our dues. (Internal murmuring against the U.S. on this score has already begun.) Washington policymakers must accept the logic of this situation and either change the laws that created it or declare America’s official withdrawal. Bokova’s December trip to Washington to lobby the Hill changed few minds. Her argument, that U.S. influence abroad will be reduced without its voice at the culture palace on the Seine, pales beside UNESCO’s endemic flaws.
“UNESCO is easy to criticize, even to mock. How could it be otherwise? Here we have an organization which has set out to influence the educational, scientific and cultural activities of the world—no less. Obviously ridiculous and laughable! Yet would it not be more helpful to suspend judgment at least until the facts have been looked at as a whole?” Those words were written in 1951 by a former UNESCO staff member, Britain’s Theodore Besterman, in the first book ever published about the organization. It shows that the UN’s cultural agency, with its ill-defined, infinite utopian mandate, has been open to abuse and invited criticism since the beginning. The difference is that now the facts are in.