news 27 Jul 15

Serbia Vows to Stop Kosovo Joining UNESCO

Belgrade said it will fight Pristina’s bid to join UN cultural body UNESCO, arguing that Kosovo is not a state and cannot protect Serbian religious monuments and heritage there.

Igor Jovanovic, Una Hajdari
BIRN
Belgrade, Pristina
Serbian FM Ivica Dacic. Photo by Beta.

Serbia’s Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic has sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon saying that Kosovo’s request to become a member of UNESCO is unacceptable under international law, Serbian public broadcaster RTS reported on Sunday.

“Kosovo, as a territory under the UN’s administration, in line with the current and binding UN [Security Council] resolution 1244, cannot be considered a state subject to international law, and thereby it cannot qualify for admission into UNESCO,” RTS cited Dacic as saying in his letter.

But Kosovo’s deputy foreign minister Petrit Selimi said that Dacic would not be able to prevent his country marking another step towards achieving full recognition of its independence despite the fact that it is not a UN member state.

“We know that many states became members of UNESCO before becoming members of the UN, including West Germany, Austria, etc. Dacic can write letters, but he cannot stop the wheel of history,” Selimi told Kosovo newspaper Epoka e Re.

“Kosovo will be a member with full rights of all the organisations to which it applies, starting with UNESCO this year,” he added.

Many significant Serbian Orthodox monasteries and churches lie in Kosovo, and Belgrade officials have accused Pristina of not protecting them properly or even colluding in their destruction.

Labour minister Aleksandar Vulin on Sunday accused Pristina officials of not stopping the destruction of 35 Serbian monasteries, churches and monuments during unrest in March 2004, and said that those who “set fire” to churches now “want to present themselves as the guardians” of Serbian heritage in Kosovo.

International courts in Pristina have since convicted several people of destroying Serbian Orthodox churches in March 2004, handing down jail sentences ranging from 21 months to 16 years.

Some Serbian opposition politicians meanwhile have said that the Belgrade government is not strong enough to thwart Kosovo’s UNESCO membership bid.

“The state would have to launch vigorous diplomatic activity. Our government, I think, doesn’t have the capacity or the knowledge to do it,” Borislav Stefanovic, the deputy president of the opposition Democratic Party told reporters on Monday.

Kosovo Foreign Minister Hashim Thaci announced on July 16 that Pristina had applied to join the UN culture body “after around 130 meetings with UNESCO delegations were held this year”.

In order to become a UNESCO member, Kosovo first needs the support of its executive council. The council will then decide if UNESCO’s general conference will vote on Kosovo’s request during its November session. Kosovo need two-thirds of the vote to become a UNESCO member.

Darko Tanaskovic, Serbia’s ambassador to UNESCO, said that out of 58 executive council member states, 33 already recognise Kosovo.

“In the terms of mathematics, Kosovo’s request has the chance to gain a majority in the executive council,” Tanaskovic told RTS.

Serbia has no right to veto Kosovo’s membership bid.

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