In kyiv and Lviv, buildings threatened by the Russian invasion have been included in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage in Danger. The Italian city of Venice was not selected. Inscription on this list should make it possible to mobilize additional financial and technical support to preserve these sites. Some States see it as an opportunity, others as a shame.
The monastic buildings of Kiev and the center of Lviv “threatened with destruction” due to the Russian invasion, were included in the list of world heritage sites in danger by UNESCO, on Friday, September 15, on the occasion of the 45th session of the World Heritage Committee in Riyadh (Saudi Arabia). An inscription from which the city of Venice once again escaped, threatened by global warming and excess tourism.
Today, this list includes 56 sites, from the minaret and archaeological remains of Jam, Afghanistan, to the historic city of Zabid, Yemen.
Weakened by armed conflicts and wars, earthquakes and other natural disasters, but also by pollution, poaching, uncontrolled urbanization or the uncontrolled development of tourism, these places are the subject of special attention.
Its inclusion on the list of world heritage in danger allows the World Heritage Committee, which meets annually, to immediately grant aid to the properties in danger within the framework of the World Heritage Fund.
War and global warming, “danger” criteria
In the case of the Ukrainian sites, the 21 state representatives that make up the World Heritage Committee considered their inclusion necessary.
The Saint Sophia Cathedral and associated monastic buildings, the Kiev Pechersk Lavra, an important Orthodox monastery, as well as the entire historic city center of Lviv have thus entered the list of world heritage in danger.
“The optimal conditions are no longer met to fully guarantee the protection of the exceptional universal value of the property threatened by potential danger due to war,” explains UNESCO, whose headquarters are in Paris.
“Given the risk of a direct attack, these places are also vulnerable to the shock waves caused by the bombings of the two cities,” the organization’s statement indicates.
According to the 1972 Convention, a World Heritage property may be inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger if the committee considers that its status corresponds to at least one of the criteria described in the “Operations”, a document that provides guidance for the application of the World Heritage Convention.
Sites in danger, natural or cultural, may thus find themselves in a situation of “demonstrated danger”, when they involve specific and proven imminent threats; or in a “danger” situation, when they face threats that could have detrimental effects on their world heritage value.
The cultural assets, the Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kiev, the Pechersk Lavra in Kiev and the historic center of Lviv – as well as the historic center of Odessa, since last January – were included in the list under a “danger” status due to “serious threats that could have harmful effects on its essential characteristics.” These threats correspond to UNESCO’s criteria relating to “armed conflicts that are imminent or threaten to break out.”
In Ukraine, at least 248 places have been damaged or destroyed by the war, according to a UNESCO press release, which states that the damage caused to the cultural sector has already cost 2.4 billion euros.
“To rebuild, but also to correct the situation, it will be necessary to invest 6.9 billion dollars in the cultural sector of Ukraine over the next ten years,” warned UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay last April, on the sidelines of a working meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Following the Odessa registration, the UN agency set out to strengthen its local actions, in particular to preserve and digitize the works, as well as continue the protection of heritage buildings exposed to the risk of bombing.
Several buildings in central Odessa were attacked last July, including the Transfiguration Cathedral, which was severely damaged by a Russian bombing.
“Since the first days of the war, UNESCO has stood with the Ukrainian people to help protect culture, heritage, education and the safety of journalists. These are the pillars of our humanity, our identities, the pillars of the recovery and peace of the country,” Audrey Azoulay stressed in April, in front of the Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kiev, considered by UNESCO as “one of the main monuments that represent the architecture and monumental art of the beginning of the 11th century” in Ukraine.
Symbol of the “new Constantinople”, capital of the Christian principality created in the 11th century, Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, for its part, contributed to the spread of Orthodox faith and thought on the European continent in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. . centuries.
In the case of natural sites in “demonstrated danger”, their inclusion on the list may be justified, for example, by “a serious alteration of the natural beauty or scientific interest of the property, resulting, for example, from a settlement human”, or even “a serious decline in the population of endangered species for whose protection the property in question has been legally established”.
The “danger” status will be maintained if the site faces “serious threats that could have harmful effects on its essential characteristics.” Among these threats are the modification of the legal status that protected it, an armed conflict or even the “threatening impacts of climatic, geological or other environmental factors.”
Last July, UNESCO experts recommended the inclusion of Venice on the list of world heritage in danger, considering that the Italian authorities must intensify their efforts to protect the “City of the Doges” and the lagoon that surrounds it.
According to the United Nations cultural agency, Venice is at risk of suffering “irreversible” damage due to a series of problems, in particular climate change and mass tourism, two scourges that are regularly mentioned in these debates.
“The continued development (of Venice), the impacts of climate change and mass tourism threaten to cause irreversible changes to the property’s outstanding universal value,” said the World Heritage Centre, a branch of UNESCO. Examples cited by the agency include sea level rise and other “extreme weather events.”
As happened two years earlier, the “City of the Doges” narrowly escaped
While the World Heritage Committee noted that the site still faced major challenges and called on Italy to continue protecting it, it decided not to include it on its list of endangered sites.
“This decision takes into account the progress made in recent days by UNESCO, in particular the creation from 2024 of a visitor flow management system,” a diplomat told AFP.
While the project had been on hold for months, Venice finally decided to implement a five-euro tax starting in 2024, which tourists visiting the city for a day will have to pay. A measure aimed at deterring some of the visitors who, every day, saturate the city and its canals.
But Venice is not out of the woods. “The Committee reiterated its concern about the significant challenges that remain to be addressed for the proper conservation of the site, particularly related to mass tourism, development projects and climate change. It considers that further progress is necessary.”
Italy must also invite an advisory mission from the World Heritage Centre, which must “submit a report by February 1, 2024, so that the state of conservation of the site can be examined again during the 46th session of the Committee in the summer 2024”.
Last chance or disgrace
As UNESCO specifies, the inscription of a site on the list of World Heritage in Danger “allows the Committee to immediately grant aid to the threatened property within the framework of the World Heritage Fund.”
Next, every effort should be made to reset the site’s settings to allow it to be removed from the list as soon as possible.
A list that is not perceived in the same way by all parties involved. Indeed, if some countries request the registration of a site to attract international attention and obtain competent assistance to resolve them, others, on the other hand, wish to avoid such registration, which they perceive as an infamy and a dishonor.
On September 15, when UNESCO had just announced that Venice had not been classified, the Italian Minister of Culture, Gennaro Sangiulano, was quick to hail “a victory for Italy and common sense.”
A response, in particular, to the environmental NGO Italia Nostra, whose president of the Venetian section welcomed the report of UNESCO experts in favor of the classification of Venice on the list of heritage in danger. “Finally!” he reacted, hoping that such a record would force the Italian government to act radically.
“The classification of a site as world heritage in danger should not be considered a sanction,” reminds the UN agency, considering that it is rather a “system established to respond effectively to specific conservation needs.”
In fact, if a site loses the characteristics that earned it its inclusion on the World Heritage list and the State to which it belongs does not fulfill its duties of protection and preservation, the Committee may decide to remove it from the UNESCO World Heritage List. . A decision that, this time unequivocally, undermines the prestige of the site.
Note in the original language
Source: France 24