The "Crisis of the Eighties" as an Indicator of Conflicting Loyalties in UNESCO

Thursday, January 3, 2019: 1:50 PM
Salon 7 (Palmer House Hilton)
Meryll David-Ismail, Bilkent University and Institut Français d’Études Anatoliennes
If the history of UNESCO has been peppered by several crises, the one of the Eighties is particularly interesting as it is the most revealing of loyalty conflicts that could face international civil servants. As staff members of an International Organization (IO), their status has been clear since the creation of the international civil service in 1919. The League of Nations created “administrative internationalism”, the principle of independence of IO staff who do not represent the interest of their countries of nationality, but only the interest of their organization, the “international interest”. The author of the first book on the international civil service even wrote that “one of the most important innovations in the history of humanity was the attempt to create international loyalty among the workers for international cooperation.”

This concept of the extra-national character of staff in international institutions was inscribed and completed in the United Nations Charter and within every UN specialized agencies after 1945. But the crisis of the Eighties in UNESCO illustrates that the conflicting loyalties could happen not only between the national and the international loyalties, as it was the case of the Americans in the Fifties or Sorin Dumitrescu in the Seventies, but also between staff and the Head of the IO. During that crisis, in which many different actors were involved, the staff of UNESCO was deeply divided between those who claimed to be “loyal” to the image that they had of their Organization, and those who remained faithful to the Director-General. This conflict went to an unprecedented point never reached in the history of the whole UN System.