Kosovo narrowly failed to become a full member of the UN cultural agency UNESCO, falling just short of the required two-thirds majority in a ballot on November 9. The outcome is seen as a major victory for Belgrade.
Serbia, from which Kosovo unilaterally declared independence in 2008, has fiercely opposed the bid of its former province to be part of UNESCO, suggesting that it would be an open threat to Serbian cultural heritage in Kosovo. Russia also campaigned against Kosovo's membership.
Serbian president Tomislav Nikolic was quick to react, saying in a statement that "this is a rightful and moral victory in almost impossible conditions.”
"Shame for just three votes," Kosovan minister for EU integration Bekim Collaku tweeted, following the vote, but added that the country is “encouraged by overwhelming support of 92 votes”. This is just the beginning, he said.
Kosovo's admission to UNESCO needed at least a two-thirds majority among the UNESCO General Conference, but fell short by just three votes. In a vote in Paris, 92 member countries voted in favour (95 were needed), 50 were against and 29 abstained.
Kosovo has so far been recognised by 111 countries since it declared independence from Serbia.
Some of the countries that voted against Kosovo’s membership included Brazil, China, Spain, Russia, India and Kazakhstan, broadcaster Klan Kosova reported. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, Romania and several other countries abstained.
Kosovan Prime Minister Isa Mustafa said in a statement that he deeply regrets the lack of international consensus on Kosovo's admission to UNESCO. However, he stressed that Kosovo will not step back from its EU-NATO agenda and will convince everyone that the country deserves to be part of all international organisations.
The application for Kosovo’s admission to UNESCO was formally submitted by Albania, and supported by 45 countries.
A UNESCO resolution recommending the admission of Kosovo was adopted by UNESCO's Executive Committee on October 21. After the resolution was adopted, Serbian government officials, and representatives of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts and the Serbian Orthodox Church stepped up their campaign to persuade UNESCO members to reject the application.
Nikolic congratulated Serbian citizens and the government which, he said, “has invested a lot of diplomatic effort and did not give up even when it seemed that everything was lost ... This is a continuation of the struggle for Kosovo and Metohija and a sign sufficiently clear to everyone that we will never give up of the southern Serbian province.”
One of Serbia’s main arguments against Kosovo’s membership of UNESCO was based on the destruction of 35 Serbian Orthodox churches and monasteries in March 2004 by ethnic Albanian extremists. The Serbian Orthodox Church welcomed the decision by the UNESCO General Conference to reject the proposal for the admission of Kosovo.
However, supporters of Pristina’s bid for membership say Kosovo’s entry into UNESCO would have increased the incentive for its government and people to take care of all its cultural heritage, including those with Serbian roots. Kosovo had promised that if it became a UNESCO member, it would protect the cultural heritage of Serbs, despite tensions after a 1998-99 war.