I.G. (Irina) Bokova

foto I.G. (Irina) Bokova vergrootglas

Ms. Irina Bokova (Bulgaria, 1952) has been the Director-General of UNESCO since 15 November 2009 and was re-elected for a second term in 2013. Ms. Bokova has successfully pushed forward a strong UN agenda for better preservation of humanity's cultural heritage.

In particular, Ms. Bokova and UNESCO have proven to be successful in further criminalising the illegal trade in cultural artifacts and in persecuting those that willfully destroy parts of cultural history.

Ms. Bokova is the official candidate for the position of UN Secretary-General, on behalf of Bulgaria, in the upcoming election for the post of 2017. Throughout her career, Ms. Irina Bokova has been involved in the UN - she had her first posting at the UN headquarters in 1982. On behalf of her government, Ms. Bokova was closely involved with the World Conferences on Women held in 1980, 1985, and 1995.

Ms. Bokova became closely involved in national politics in 1990, when the government was overtrown. She participated in the drafting of the new constitution for Bulgaria. In compliance with her work for the Ministery of Foreign Affairs, she was a member of parliament from 2001 to 2005 when she became the country's ambassador to France and UNESCO.


Personal data

Name and surname

Irina Georgieva Bokova

Date of birth

12th of July 1952

Place of birth

Sofia, Bulgaria


Georgi Bokov (father)

Kalin Mitrev (spouse)

Imants Freibergs (former spouse)

Pavel & Naia (children)

Selected honours and distinctions: orders of merit and medals

  • Grand Cross of the Order of The Sun of Peru (Peru), 2011
  • Grand Chancellor of the National Order of Chad (Chad), 2012
  • Order of "Stara Planina with ribbon" (Bulgaria), 2014
  • Order of "Friendship" (Kazachstan), 2014
  • Commandeur in the Legion of Honor (France), 2015

And over a dozen other honours from Benin, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Costa Rica, el Salvador, Korea, Mali, Monaco, Mongolia, Morocco, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and one of Russia's republics.

Selected honours and distinctions: awards, medals and prizes

  • Honorary Award, Ladies First International Association, 2011
  • Freedom Award, International Peace Center Sarajevo, 2012
  • Al-Fakhr Decoration, Council of Muslim Leaders of the Russian Federation, 2014
  • Simon Wiesenthal Centre International Distinguished Service Award, 2015

And nine other distinctions, primarily in the field of culture or from Bulgarian institutions in recognition of her contribution to her country.

Ms. Bokova also holds 34 honorary doctorates from universities from a wide range of countries, including multiple doctorates from Bulgaria, China, Italy, Russia and the United Kingdom.



Secondary school

English Secondary School in Sofia, Bulgaria, graduated in 1971


Moscow State Institute of International Relations, graduated in 1976

Additional academic experience

  • University of Maryland, School of Public Affairs in Washington U.S.A., January to August 1989
  • NATO fellow, Programme for Central and Eastern Europe on democratic institutions, September 1992 to December 1994
  • Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government Executive Programme in Leadership and Economic Development in Cambridge, U.S.A., November to December 1999


Political affiliation

  • Bulgarian Communist Party, up to 1990
  • Bulgarian Socialist Party, since 1990



  • Civil servant, Ministry of Foreign Affairs United Nations department, 1977 to 1990. Part of her tenure was spent at Bulgarian permanent mission to the UN Headquarters. Became advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1984 to 1990
  • Member of the Constituent National Assembly, 1990 to 1991
  • Diplomat, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1991 to 1992
  • Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, 1995 to 1997 and acting Minister of Foreign Affairs (ad interim) from November 13th 1996 to February 13th 1997
  • Member of Parliament, 2001 to 2005, deputy chairperson of the Foreign Policy, Defence and Security Committee and the Joint Parliamentary Committee, member of the European Integration Committee
  • Ambassador of the Republic of Bulgaria to France and Monaco
  • Permanent Delegate of the Republic of Bulgaria to UNESCO, member of the Executive Board of UNESCO from 2007 to 2009
  • Personal Representative of the President of the Republic of Bulgaria to the "Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie" and acted as deputy chairperson of the Group of Francophone Countries at UNESCO
  • Director-General of UNESCO, since October 15th 2009 (re-elected for a second term in November 2013)

Selected honoraries and functions (former)

  • Founding member of the European Policy Forum
  • Member of the "Prix des Ambassadeurs"
  • Vice-president of the Bulgarian delegation to the World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995)
  • Chairperson of the Second Extraordinary Session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (Sofia, 2008)


Selected political achievements

  • Participated in the drafting of the new constitution for Bulgaria in 1990 after the collapse of the communist state.
  • Part of the team that negotiated membership of both the EU and NATO
  • On the 28th of March 2015, Ms. Bokova launched the 'Unite4Heritage' campaign to create and safeguard cultural heritage sites threatened by extremist groups. The initiative was a response to the cultural rampage of terrorist organisation ISIL in Iraq and Syria
  • Successfully pushed for a UN Security Council resolution aimed at crippling the trade in Iraqi and Syrian artifacts, thus depriving ISIL of a source of income
  • During her tenure, the first ever prosecution of a 'heritage war crime' at the The Hague Tribunal has been instigated


Selected references and statements

Selected books and publications by Ms. Bokova

  • "Bulgaria and Ethnic Tensions in the Balkans" (article Mediterranean Quarterly, January 1991)
  • "Monitoring Bulgaria’s Accession to the European Union" European Policy Forum Annual publications of 1999, 2000, 2001
  • "Integration of South-Eastern Europe into the European Mainstream" (article, Journal of South East and Black Sea Studies, October 2000)
  • "Einbahnstrasse EU-Erweiterung, Schüren Verlag" (contribution to publication, September 2001)

Ms. Bokova has published other articles on foreign policy and European integration issues, on ethnic tensions in Bulgaria and the Balkans, and has written numerous editorials on the value of culture, heritage, education and science.

Political comments

  • On the eve of the election for the new director of UNESCO in 2009, critics pointed out Ms. Bokova had been a member of the Communist Party, and that her father had been editor-in-chief of the newspaper of the Bulgarian Communist Party. The counterargument was that Ms. Bokova was deeply involved in the transformation from a communist state to a democracy.
  • Ms. Bokova is the official candidate of the Bulgarian government to become UN Secretary-General in 2017. Several media have tipped Irina Bokova as one of the leading candidates.