March 10, 2015 / 5:05 PM / 4 years ago

Former Yugoslav foes join forces in seeking tombstone protection

A worker cleans a tombstone at Radimlja necropolis near Stolac March 10, 2015. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Four former Yugoslav republics, torn apart by war in the 1990s, expect success in their unprecedented joint bid to win United Nations protection for thousands of medieval tombstones that are part of their shared heritage, a minister said on Tuesday.

Known as “Stecci”, the tombstones date to the 12th century and are revered in the Balkans for their unique decorative symbols and carvings, often linked to the medieval Kingdom of Bosnia. Around 60,000 have been found in Bosnia, and nearly 10,000 in neighboring Serbia, Croatia and Montenegro.

“We expect UNESCO to add Stecci to the World Heritage list and place them under its protection,” Bosnian Civil Affairs Minister Sredoje Novic said.

Novic was speaking at a ceremony marking the completion of the formal nomination process, submitted to UNESCO at the end of January after five years of joint work between the four states.

The nomination file has passed preliminary technical screening by U.N. experts and is expected to be evaluated by mid-2016, said Dubravko Lovrenovic, a Bosnian history professor and leader of the project.

Each of the countries has its own cultural and historic monuments on the U.N. list of protected heritage and each has nominated more, but the Stecci nomination represents the first joint bid since the states went their separate ways with the collapse of socialist Yugoslavia.

“We succeeded in showing that the South Slavic Balkans is not only the area of rivalries and destruction but also of great syntheses,” said Lovrenovic.

He called for international help in setting up an institution to take charge of managing and preserving Stecci.

Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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