UNESCO, a United Nations agency in charge of overseeing a range of cultural heritage sites around the world, is facing pressure from European groups to relocate a meeting scheduled to take place in Kazan, Russia, following the country’s invasion of Ukraine. Hosted by the Russian Federation, the 45 edition of the committee’s meeting is slated to run from June 19 to 30.
The cultural heritage group Europa Nostra and British culture minister Nadine Dorries were among those who said that UNESCO should not go ahead with its World Heritage Committee in the city as planned.
The Russian Federation was selected to host this year’s conference back in July 2021, during the 44th edition of the committee’s summit. In a statement, UNESCO said the location of this year’s 45th session can be changed by member states of the World Heritage Committee, which is composed of 21 member states elected from the 194 countries.
In 2019, Russia was elected to the committee for a four-year term. A spokesperson for UNESCO told the Art Newspaper that there are not yet any plans in place to relocate the session from Kazan.
A representative for UNESCO did not immediately respond to ARTnews request for additional comment.
The Auschwitz Memorial, which oversees the preservation of a Nazi concentration camp site in Poland, issued a statement on Twitter in early March condemning the plan to hold the conference under Russia’s chairmanship. Doing so, the organization alleged, is “a mockery of innocent Ukrainian victims.”
More than 30 academics and professionals who deal with cultural heritage issued a letter to UNESCO in which they urged the group to change its plan for the World Heritage Committee meeting, calling it “unacceptable.”
In early March, as the conflict between Russian and Ukrainian forces worsened, UNESCO raised concern about threats to cultural heritage sites across Ukraine. UNESCO has since stated that more than 50 such sites have weathered damage during the war so far.
UNESCO has sought input from Ukrainian museum officials around safeguarding cultural property at risk. Among those it is working with to track the threats to cultural heritage in Ukraine is Artists at Risk, a global nonprofit that provides aid to artists in conflict zones.
Kazan, the city where the World Heritage Committee meeting is set to be staged, is currently seeing an influx of Russian refugees to the city. Last week, it was reported that around 500 refugees from eastern Ukraine arrived in the southwest Russian province by train overnight amid Russian attacks that have devastated Mariupol.
Correction, 4/08/22, 1:04 p.m.: A previous version of this article misstated that the length of the annual World Heritage Committee chairmanship was four-years. It is one year.