Wednesday, October 21, 2015

UNESCO Board Agrees Kosovo Membership Vote / "Balkan Insight" October 21, 2015

Balkan Insight
October 21, 2015
Petrit Collaku
Igor Jovanovic
Pristina, Belgrade

UNESCO’s executive board has voted to put Kosovo’s bid for membership to a final vote at its general conference in November, despite Serbian opposition.

UNESCO headquarters in Paris. Photo: UNESCO.

The executive board voted on Wednesday by 27 to 14 for Kosovo’s bid to join UNESCO to move to the next stage, despite opposition from Serbia, which sees it as a further unacceptable step towards recognition of its former province’s independence.

“It was a small but emotional step forward in a long road,” Kosovo’s Deputy Foreign Minister Petrit Selimi wrote on Twitter after the vote.

The membership bid will now be put to a final vote at UNESCO’s general conference in November, when two-thirds of its 195 members need to vote in favour in order for Kosovo to be allowed to join.

Delegations from Serbian allies Russia and Cuba asked the executive board to postpone Kosovo’s request but the head of the session refused the request, saying it was too late, Kosovapress reported.

Serbia opposes any international recognition of Kosovo and argues that Pristina does not have the will to protect Serb religious monuments in its former province.

Marko Djuric, the head of the Serbian government’s office for Kosovo, said that despite Wednesday’s vote, Belgrade would not stop trying to prevent Pristina from joining the UN cultural body.

“We will continue our diplomatic struggle in the coming days because the battle to stop Kosovo becoming a UNESCO member, no matter how hard it is, is not over yet,” Tanjug news agency quoted Djuric as saying.

Kosovo Serbs protested on Wednesday at an Orthodox monastery in Gracanica and in the north of the divided town of Mitrovica ahead of the crucial UNESCO executive board meeting.

Dozens of Serbs gathered inside the Gracanica monastery and placed photographs of destroyed Serbian Orthodox churches on the ground to spell out the slogan “No Kosovo in UNESCO”.

Igor Simic, a politician from Mitrovica who took part in the protest, recalled the destruction of Serbian Orthodox churches during unrest across Kosovo in 2004.

“Kosovo’s membership of UNESCO will not protect Serbian churches,” Simic told media.

Around 200 Serb students also rallied in Mitrovica in protest, marching from the university to the main bridge over Ibar River that divides the town’s Serb and Albanian population.

“As students do not accept the Republic of Kosovo, they are also against Kosovo’s acceptance into UNESCO,” said student representative Milan Savic.

In the ethnic unrest in March 2004, 19 people were killed and more than 800 buildings were destroyed or damaged, including 29 churches or monasteries, according to an OSCE report.

International courts in Pristina have since convicted several people of destroying Serbian Orthodox churches, handing down jail sentences ranging from 21 months to 16 years.

Many of the most significant Serbian Orthodox monasteries and churches lie in Kosovo, including the monastery churches of Gracanica and Decani and the Patriarchal complex in Pec/Peje, which are already on the list of UNESCO world heritage sites.
Belgrade accuses Pristina of not looking after them properly and of colluding in the destruction of some sites.

Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic told reporters before the vote on Wednesday that the issue of Kosovo’s membership of international organisations should be discussed during the ongoing EU-led dialogue to normalise relations between Belgrade and Pristina.

“We want to take this issue to the talks in Brussels, not to let the Albanians cheat us anymore by joining every organisation they can get into by outvoting us,” he said.

However Serbia has no right of veto over Kosovo's UNESCO membership bid, and Kosovo will be able to join even though it is not a UN member state.


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