The 14th century fortress is currently undergoing EU-funded revitalizations. | Photo: Atdhe Mulla

Final countdown: Kosovo’s new UNESCO bid

Only months away from the next opportunity to apply for UNESCO membership, Kosovo’s government is neglecting to take a deliberative decision on a very important matter.

Since 2015, almost nothing has changed with regards to Kosovo’s quest for membership in UNESCO. All erroneous actions and steps that led to failure two years ago are being repeated once again today. There is a total lack of clarity about the application itself, there is no coordination amongst different relevant institutions, there is a lack of sufficient public discussions. The country’s diplomacy continues to be rather anemic, and heritage, education and science have deteriorated even more. More disappointingly, one cannot discern any reflection on the part of the government with regards to the failure it suffered two years ago. And the permanent danger remains that the decision on the application and the leadership of the process depend on two or three politicians. Only a few months away from the next opportunity to apply for membership, the Kosovo government has not taken a definite decision on the matter.

When we failed in 2015, the public demanded accountability from those responsible for the UNESCO application. That accountability manifested itself in the strangest way possible: the Foreign Minister Hashim Thaci became President, while the Deputy Foreign Minister Petrit Selimi became the manager of a large development fund. The likelihood that the same will happen this year, meaning that no one will offer accountability for yet another eventual failure, is very real. That is why the leaders of institutions neglect the question of UNESCO membership with an unbearable ease. To them, the political points they can gain are more important than the aim of membership for the country’s good. This is perhaps because they know that in Kosovo, a system of public accountability does not exist, and this is why a second UNESCO application failure does not endanger them at all. Per usual, the price of their failures is paid only by Kosovo society.

UNESCO is not simply UNESCO. This agency of the United Nations is internationally prestigious as the cultural wing of the UN. Membership in UNESCO–in addition to being proof to the international subjectivity of the state of Kosovo and a step forward towards a much-desired seat at the UN–opens paths for new memberships to important international organizations. Furthermore, it would create endless opportunities for public institutions and civil society to benefit from dozens of this organization’s programs. As a result, failing to join UNESCO is just as important as the membership itself. Especially if we fail twice in a row within two years.

Now that we are at the end of the first quarter of 2017 and we only have a few months left before the next UNESCO conference, the Kosovo government faces a countdown. An absolutely necessary step that the government must take is to open up the playing field for wide and transparent public discussions, which will bring about a deliberative decision about whether we should apply for membership in 2017 or wait until the next round of applications opens in 2019.

In case there is a decision to apply, all of the country’s capacities – from governmental bodies to the academy and civil society – should be mobilized around this objective. Without a comprehensive mobilization of all state and social structures, a renewed effort for membership would be a dangerous action. In 2015, we fell short of three votes, but nothing has been done in the meantime to change the votes. Another discouraging fact is the extremely small number of international recognitions of Kosovo’s independence in the past few years. In addition to lobbying through official diplomatic channels, these social groups need to be active in public diplomacy to convince UNESCO member states to vote positively and oppose the negative Serbian propaganda. And most of all, reforms in cultural heritage management and the improvement of quality in education and other fields related to the work of UNESCO are of vital importance.

28 February 2017 - 10:37

Hajrulla Çeku

28/02/2017 - 10:37

Prishtina Insight is a digital and print magazine published by BIRN Kosova. For 8 years, PI has been reporting on current affairs, published exclusive investigations and longform features & essays about Kosovo and the region.