In 1974 he co-founded the Severo Ochoa Centre of Molecular Biology at the Autonomous University of Madrid and also of the High Council for Scientific Research. Among other political posts Professor Mayor held those of Undersecretary of Education and Science in the Spanish Government (l974-75), Deputy in the Spanish Parliament (l977-78), Advisor to the President of the Government (l977-78), Minister of Education and Science (1981-82) and Deputy in the European Parliament (1978). In 1978 he was appointed Vice-Director General of UNESCO, and in 1987 he was elected Director General of that organisation, being re-elected for a second mandate in 1993. Having decided not to present himself for a third term, he returned to Spain in 1999 and created the Foundation for a Culture of Peace of which he is president.
Head of UNESCO for 12 years (1987-99) Professor Mayor Zaragoza gave new life to the Organization’s mission to “build a bastion of peace in the minds of all people”, putting the institution at the service of peace, tolerance, human rights and peaceful coexistence, working within the scope of its powers and remaining faithful to its original goals. Under Professor Mayor’s guidance, UNESCO created the Culture of Peace Programme, whose objectives revolve around four main themes: education for peace, human rights and democracy; the fight against isolation and poverty; the defence of cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue; conflict prevention and the consolidation of peace.
Within the framework of this strategy, numerous international meetings and conferences were held on subjects such as education in non-violence, the eradication of discrimination and the promotion of pluralism and international cooperation. The result of these meetings was a significant number of Declarations – some thirty – which express a will to promote education, science, culture, research or teaching, as well as justice and the “moral and intellectual solidarity”, all issues the Constitution of the UNESCO refers to. On September 13th, 1999 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration and Action Programme on a Culture of Peace, which embodies Professor Mayor Zaragoza’s greatest aspirations from both a conceptual and practical standpoint.
Through the Foundation for a Culture of Peace, created in Madrid in March 2000, Professor Mayor Zaragoza continues the task he began as Director General of UNESCO: that of promoting the transition from a culture of violence and force to a culture of peace and tolerance in all walks of life. He mainly attends to educational content concerning the origin of conflicts, democracy and human rights. In December 2000 the Foundation organized an international conference attended by distinguished figures who are known for their struggle for justice, freedom and peace. At the end of the conference the Declaration of Madrid was adopted unanimously.
In addition to numerous scientific publications, Professor Federico Mayor has published four books of poetry, A contraviento (1985), Aguafuertes (1991), El fuego y la esperanza (1996) and Terral (1997) and various collections of essays: Un Mundo Nuevo (in English: The World Ahead: Our Future Making) (1999), Los nudos gordianos (1999), Mañana siempre es tarde (1987), La nueva página (1994), Memoria del futuro (1994), La paix demain? (1995), Science and Power (1995) and UNESCO: un idéal en acción (1996).