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2014.01.27 11:27

Lithuanian Ambassador to UNESCO: Even the smallest nation can make a change

DELFI|The Lithuania Tribune2014.01.27 11:27

Former culture minister Arūnas Gelūnas has been the Lithuanian ambassador to UNESCO for a little over a year now. According to him it is often believed that the main mission of the organisation is to look after the world heritage, reports Monika Petrulienė, LRT TV news service.

 Former culture minister Arūnas Gelūnas has been the Lithuanian ambassador to UNESCO for a little over a year now. According to him it is often believed that the main mission of the organisation is to look after the world heritage, reports Monika Petrulienė, LRT TV news service.

However, the truth of the matter is that it is a complex organisation in which even a small nation can determine decisions that end up affecting the world.

The UNESCO headquarters in the centre of Paris only looks grand and representational from the outside. The embassies of 195 nations are cramped in narrow hallways and small offices. Lithuania is given two small rooms that are cluttered with documents and books. Three employees and the ambassador have to find a way to fit in the space.

Before the interview begins, Gelūnas apologises about the pile of albums in the middle of the office – the ambassador was assured by a steward that the carpet will straighten out if it’s weighed down by something. Half a year passed by, but the carpet is still being weighed down. “It’s so French,” sighs Gelūnas and assures that he would be more able to change the mind of the entire UNESCO organisation than to argue with the local craftsmen.

“The job at UNESCO isn’t just about heritage, dates and lists. It is a constant, daily diplomatic job, the activities of experts during conferences, hearings and business meetings that typically take place once or twice a week,” says Gelūnas.

According to him, if even the smallest nation is active in the conference rooms, it can affect decisions that have significance worldwide. One of the most active countries in the organisation – Saint Lucia, is merely a small island in the Caribbean; while Lithuania presided over nearly fifty UNESCO meetings in the past half a year.

“Everything is discussed here. For example: electronic surveillance and the spying scandal along with the position that Europe has on this issue,” as the former Lithuania’s minister of culture  says.

Gelūnas thinks that an example of the power that UNESCO holds over other countries is Lithuanian politicians’ intention to build a bridge over Kuršių marios. At the same time that it ratified the UNESCO convention on the conservation of heritage, Lithuania also committed to protect the Curonian Spit as a world heritage site. Therefore, the construction of the bridge cannot be carried out.

The ambassador said that he tried to encourage Kaunas residents to create a project which would result in Kaunas’ pre-war architecture being put on the UNESCO’s list of protected areas. Albums with building descriptions have already been released. According to Gelūnas, Kaunas has more chances to be recognised by UNESCO than Trakai.

“There is a belief that, at the end of the day, Trakai doesn’t have very good prospects.  Experts see a lack of authenticity – there is a relatively high percentage of modern materials,” said UNESCO’s representative for Lithuania.  According to him, Lithuania still organises too few international projects. One of them, the 250th birth anniversary of the renowned composer and diplomat Mykolas Klepas Oginskis, will be commemorated by Lithuanians, Belarusians and the Polish next year.

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