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A Disunited Eastern Europe and the United Nations

With Bulgaria entering Kristalina Georgieva, European Commissioner for Budget and Human Resources, as its second candidate into the race for Secretary-General of the United Nations, just a few days before the election on 5 October, things have become really interesting. In the Bulgarian press, sarcastic headlines point out that while Bulgaria now has two candidates for the post, there are whole continents without a single candidate. If neither candidate withdraws, the country will create a precedent in the history of the United Nations. The fact that such a small country presents two of the ten candidates for the highest position at the biggest international organisation, is ironic. It shows lack of consensus and internal coordination, but is the Bulgarian dilemma the only problem in this election?

Looking at the list of candidates, it is interesting to note that the majority of candidates are from the Eastern Europe Group (EEG). On the one hand, this seems like a good thing – more candidates could mean having more chances. But on the other hand having too many candidates might turn against the group and result in choosing a representative from a different regional group. For me, this whole situation raises a very important question: is eastern Europe united enough to go for the same candidate?

A last-minute change of mind

Initially, Bulgaria backed Irina Bokova, the current Director-General of UNESCO, as candidate for the United Nations’ Secretary-General position. The decision to support Bokova dates from June 2014 and it was taken by the previous government. The current government confirmed it in the beginning of this year. But then suddenly this week the support for Bokova was withdrawn, a surprising decision that came at the very last minute.

The official version circulating in the media is that as Bokova failed to win enough support during the recent Security Council voting (sixth place out of nine), the Bulgarian government decided to back another candidate, Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva. As  there seems to be no known mechanism for a country to withdraw a candidate, Bulgaria ended up with two. Irina Bokova faced pressure to withdraw her own candidacy but she resisted and decided to continue running for Secretary-General. Last Wednesday, on 28 September, she tweeted ‘Grateful to you all who support me and fully committed to continue the race for #NextSG!’

Bokova’s vision statement revolves around a new humanism for the 21st century: peace through prevention and mediation, advancing human rights and dignity of men and women, empowering women, good governance. ‘Expectations are high across the world, and we must meet them. Millions of women and men are looking to the United Nations to prevent conflicts, end wars and lay the foundations for sustainable development. They look to the United Nations to embody humanity as a single community, sharing values and aspirations, holding a history and a destiny in common.’ In Irina Bokova’s opinion, Bulgaria has become the world’s laughingstock for having two candidates in the race for the UN top function.

Prime Minister Boyko Borisov wished both candidates good luck. Although in June 2016 the European Commission stated that Georgieva was too busy with the wonderful job she is doing in the field of budgeting and human resources, she accepted the nomination and is now an official candidate. ‘It is a great honour for me to be nominated by the Bulgarian government for Secretary-General of the United Nations. I accept the nomination, fully realising how responsible this position is and how important it is for the world to be safer, stronger, more just, richer for the current and future generations,’ Kristalina Georgieva said in a video message. Georgieva will soon present her vision statement in front of the United Nation’s National Assembly. With this move, Bulgaria is left with no time for lobbying to support Kristalina Georgieva’s candidacy. However, Georgieva already has good and wide international reputation for her work for the World Bank Group and the European Commission. She was the commissioner who admonished the United Nations for wasting $1bn per year on bureaucracy for its humanitarian aid system, presenting plans to optimise these costs. This move has won her great respect and this alone might have a positive impact on her election results.

Currently, seven out of ten candidates are from the Eastern European Group (EEG), two are from the Western Europe and Others Group (WEOG) and one is from the Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC). There are three more withdrawn candidates, two of which are, again, from the EEG.

Will the next leader of the United Nations be from Eastern Europe?

Eastern Europe is the only region that has never had a representative in this leading position in the United Nations. After 70 years and nine men holding the post of Secretary-General, maybe now it is time for a change and the United Nations are ready for a strong female leader. Currently, there is a serious lobby for electing a female leader from eastern Europe with Irina Bokova (Bulgaria), Kristalina Georgieva (Bulgaria) and Natalia Gherman (Moldova) as the three remaining female candidates representing the eastern European region.

Choosing an eastern European candidate to take Ban Ki-moon’s place will be encouraging for this region that seems to be neglected by the West ever since the end of the Cold War. The mind-set of societies in eastern and western Europe is hugely different. The policies and the solutions that have worked in the West cannot just be copied and applied in the East. Politicians must have a better and deeper understanding of the political and cultural context in eastern Europe. Inadequate coordination of actions, lack of understanding, focusing on the differences and the problems more than on the similarities and the solutions and displaying a victim mentality are traits that seem to be common issues in the eastern region. Bulgaria’s two candidates in the UN Secretary-General race proves this point. If eastern European countries want to earn the leading position in the United Nations, they must look beyond their differences and act in concert. With too many candidates from the Eastern Europe Group, the risk is great that the votes will be scattered and the chances of the candidates compromised.

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