UNESCO, a United Nations–run agency in charge of overseeing cultural heritage sites, has postponed an annual forum scheduled to take place in Kazan, Russia, amid calls from European groups to relocate the event following the invasion of Ukraine.
Hosted by the Russian Federation, the 45th edition of the committee’s meeting was originally slated to run from June 19 to 30. The cultural heritage group Europa Nostra and British culture minister Nadine Dorries were among those who had called for UNESCO to adjust its plans.
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A group of more than 30 cultural experts penned a letter last month advocating to have the meeting’s location to be changed following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. UNESCO instead opted to postpone the event indefinitely.
A new location for the meeting has not yet been announced. According to a UNESCO representative, the proposal for postponement was made by the committee’s chairman, who serves as an ambassador for the Russian Federation. The proposal was made to the committee’s bureau, which is composed of seven members.
In the letter penned by Laura Davies, UNESCO ambassador for the U.K., that was published on April 8 and signed by Unesco representatives from 46 countries, the group said, “According to the figures recently released by the Unesco Secretariat, 53 cultural buildings (historical monuments, places of worship, libraries, etc.) had been damaged or destroyed by 31 March.”
It’s now estimated that the number of Ukrainian cultural sites damaged or destroyed is closer to 100.
The organization’s World Heritage Committee is made up of 21 member states elected from the 194 countries that meet each year to discuss agendas to safeguard World Heritage sites. In 2019, Russia was elected to the committee for a four-year term.
Kazan, the city where the World Heritage Committee meeting was first set to be staged, has recently seen an influx of Ukrainian refugees to the city. Reports of Russian activists being arrested amid protests in the Tatarstan capital have also circulated. Kazan is home to a 16th-century Russian citadel that is listed as an UNESCO World Heritage site.
In a statement published by Russian News Agency last week, the representative in charge of the Russian Commission for UNESCO, Grigory Ordzhonikidze, attributed the meeting’s postponement to pressure from Western administrations.
“The members of the committee, those being 21 sovereign states, are under a strong pressure of the collective west, which demands refusing to hold the meeting in Kazan and divest Russia of chairmanship,” he said. “Despite it, the majority of World Heritage Committee states do not want to support such anti-Russia attacks.”