Remarks by US Mission to UNESCO Charge d’Affaires a.i. Chris Hegadorn on the occasion of the U.S. Independence Day

Thank you everyone for being here tonight. We’re here for a number of things, including my farewell, that of my deputy, Michael, and to welcome two new officers to our mission.  I will introduce [them] in a moment and, since that’s not enough, we’re also celebrating the U.S.’s Independence Day.

So to begin the formal portion of tonight’s ceremony, and to help us celebrate, we have invited our Marine Security Guard detachment to present the nation’s colors. Then, Ms. Blair Taylor, a talented American opera singer, will sing the United States’ national anthem.

(Pause for flag ceremony and anthem)

The United States did not sign UNESCO’s 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage.  But, as you know the U.S. is incredibly rich in culture — a few examples of which you will experience tonight.

First, Denis Payen, our Residence Manager and Chef and his colleagues have prepared a sumptuous New Orleans meal for us tonight.  Thank you, Denis.  New Orleans is celebrating its 300th anniversary this year, and remains one of our most dynamic cities, one that bears witness to our close and historic ties with France, and one that hosts some of our country’s best jazz music.  Please join me in thanking Denis.

And speaking of music, we have the pleasure this evening of welcoming back the Parisian-based bluegrass music troupe, Sawmill Sessions, who you will meet in just a moment.  They played at my residence last year and were so good we invited them back.  Bluegrass is another unique American art form, like Jazz, brought to the U.S. by the most important of our nation’s treasures – our immigrants.  Their music and culture, transformed by the American dream, are surely among the best examples of our intangible cultural heritage and of our national spirit.

But, that’s not it…please be sure to look at the antique American quilt collection that our friend Mr. Charles de Broin has kindly shared this evening, along with works of Ms. Chantal Mistral, an American photographer who works here at the George Marshall Center.

Now, you met Denis, but we have some others on our U.S. UNESCO team who I wish to recognize and thank for their tremendous service.

I want to thank Mike Garuckis and bid him farewell as he will be returning to DC in just a couple of days…Friday, in fact.  Edith Beckman is replacing Mike as our Political Chief.  And, Kevin O’Connor, who just got off the plane two days ago, will assist our Mission for the coming period before moving to the bilateral embassy.  Please welcome them to the UNESCO family.  And the rest of our staff I see Robin here, Sophie is somewhere, and our interns. Thank you for this event and all the fantastic events we’ve done over the past 3 years that would never have been possible without the fantastic contributions and hard work of this team.

Mike arrived at roughly the same time I did in 2015, as we launched our campaign for re-election to the Executive Board.  He held down the fort for our previous ambassador while I prepared to come to Paris, and helped put in place the successful partnerships we’ve launched here.  He has kept busy with UNESCO’s work to redress the invasion and so-called “annexation” of Crimea, as well as the Memory of the World program, the Geneva Group, and much more.  Mike will return to DC to work on human rights issues, where his experience with UNESCO will come in handy. Mike, we want to thank you for your service, for your contributions here in Paris.

Now, Edie and Kevin, I know there are many people here tonight that you are just meeting for the first time, and a lot of issues and a lot of information to quickly absorb. We wish you well in what we know will not necessarily be an easy period to come – but an important one.  We know you two will do great, and with this group of colleagues, friends, and partners, you’ll have absolutely nothing to worry about.  As you know, the U.S can, and intends to, remain engaged deeply with UNESCO, through its numerous programs and with the help of many engaged Americans, both public and private.  So please find time to meet and welcome Edie and Kevin to the UNESCO family.

So now, as most of you know, I will depart Paris and the U.S. Mission next month, heading back to DC.  I am retiring from the Department of State and the U.S. Government after 27 years of government service, and am in the process of deciding what comes next for me.  So, stay tuned.

What I want to say first is what a pleasure it has been not only to be here in France these past years, but to work with such remarkable people, such remarkable colleagues, all of you here in this room on issues that we all know are incredibly important.  I hope to remain in touch with all of you, and to remain involved somehow in public policy and development issues.

I’ve been asked by some of you what have been the most important and most inspiring things that took place while I was here.  There is so much I could say about representing the U.S. at UNESCO.  Obviously, the issues we all work on — education, science, culture, and information are vital; not after-thoughts or “nice-to-haves.” These are important and meaningful issues that are critical to the American people, to the sustained health and prosperity of the American economy, and to the future of this international, open trading-system that we largely built and paid for – in fact, negotiated partly right here in this very room, based on the same values and rights enshrined in our own Constitution.

If you didn’t know this already, the Marshall Plan was negotiated right here in this very room, so you’re in the midst of rich cultural patrimony and history; so absorb that while you are here.

Is this system perfect; is UNESCO without faults?  No, far from it.  But, if one wishes to lead, wherever one is, it requires strong values, fierce commitment, and leading by example.  Of course there will be conflicts; and of course, there will be disagreement over priorities and spending.  That is natural and expected.  But, we are capable of so much more when working together, rather than alone.

The irony is hard to escape.  This agency’s Executive Board has been ridden by disputes amongst Arabs and Israel, and others – deeply harming its credibility.  But, right now, this is the only multilateral venue I can think of where we have successfully brokered agreement between Israelis, Palestinians, and other Arabs on Jerusalem and its shared heritage — an issue of intense sensitivity.  And, if you don’t know it yet, we reached another agreement to avoid further conflict next week in Bahrain at the World Heritage Committee on the same topic.

So, to the journalists here tonight, where are your stories on the positive issues and the positive outcomes?  Why aren’t we focusing attention on substance, and of what we do right, not wrong?  And, while I am addressing our media colleagues, we also have much to do to promote and advocate for the safety of journalists ­– that’s one of UNESCO’s key roles and this issue does not get enough attention.  I recall that we helped to nominate a Goodwill Ambassador to UNESCO on this very topic, who I hope will fulfil her responsibility in this regard.

These are other issues we shouldn’t forget at UNESCO, and it takes all of us – not UNESCO secretary staff, not the D.G and her senior team alone — it’s you, individually, and all of us together who can make a difference.  When we go home at night, we should be able to clearly say that we accomplished important things that changed people lives for the better.

In closing, I will leave this post happy to have served in Paris, even if a little pessimistic over larger international issues, like many of you.  And, I am immensely proud of all that we – this team with you – has accomplished here at UNESCO.  I am extremely happy to have met and worked closely in some capacity with most of you here in this room.  I thank you, and I look forward to staying in touch long into the future.

So, one last piece of our formal ceremony before we convey our sumptuous New Orleans cuisine:  we have a short video that I would like to share, which was created by a very talented and creative young man, Mr. Irvin Besic.  So, we’ll watch a short video, then we’ll hear some fantastic bluegrass music.  Thank you.