VILNIUS - On Oct. 31, the assembly of the Paris-based United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted in favor of full membership for Palestine in its organization: 107 countries, including France, voted in favor of Palestine’s membership while 52 countries, including the UK, abstained and 14 countries, including Lithuania, voted against such a decision. On Nov. 2, the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry published a press release where it expressed regrets that the EU did not manage to have a single position on the issue, and points out that Lithuania was not alone in the EU: Germany, Sweden, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands also voted against Palestine’s full membership in UNESCO. Other countries which voted against Palestine were the U.S., Israel, Australia, Canada, Palau, Panama, Samoa, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu. Latvia and Estonia abstained.
Washington stated it would not make its payment to fill out its contributions for this year and would suspend all future funding of UNESCO. The U.S. provides 22 percent of UNESCO’s budget. Canada and Israel also suspended their UNESCO funding. “It will politically and financially weaken UNESCO itself,” the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry stated about UNESCO’s vote.
Lithuania stated that such a move in UNESCO was premature. “Lithuania has always supported and will support the co-existence of two states - the State of Israel and a democratic Palestinian State – living peacefully and safely side by side,” reads the release by the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry. The Israeli government’s response to the UNESCO vote was a decision to build 2,000 new settler homes for Jews in territories which the Palestinian National Authority claims to be the territory of the Palestinian state.
The Lithuanian government is decisively pro-Israeli. Lithuanian PM Andius Kubilius, visiting Israel in December of last year, did not echo German Chancellor Angela Merkel or other EU politicians who expressed concern over the Jewish settlements beyond the internationally recognized border of Israel. Kubilius simply ignored the Palestine problem. The Lithuanian mainstream mass media is more pro-Israeli than the rest of European media, though there was some fierce criticism about Lithuania’s vote in UNESCO in the daily Respublika, and especially from readers on the Internet.
Nonetheless, sometimes some sympathies for the Palestinians can be found in the Lithuanian media as well. Zecharia Plavin, Lithuania-born professor of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance (he participated in the forum of world Lithuanians in Vilnius in July), wrote earlier this year in the Lithuanian cultural magazine Kulturos Barai that he is disgusted with the atmosphere of “chauvinist mood and ethics” in Israel. He wrote that he participates in “anti-racist and anti-occupation protests” there, though these demonstrations are very small. Plavin stated that he does so because he is a patriot of Israel.
“I would recommend to abstain if somebody would ask for my advice,” Mecys Laurinkus, former head of the Lithuanian State Security Department and former ambassador in Spain and Georgia, told Lithuanian public TV on the Lithuanian vote. “It is a good question – it is a question for Catherine Ashton, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy,” Konrad Niklewicz, spokesman for the Polish Presidency of the EU Council, said when, a month ago, he was asked by The Baltic Times if the EU will have a single stance on the issue of Palestinian attempts to join the structures of the UN. Poland is presiding over the EU until the end of this year. Poland abstained in UNESCO. Other votes in UNESCO by EU members were the following: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, Slovenia, and Spain voted in favor of Palestinian membership while Bulgaria, Denmark, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Romania, and Slovakia abstained.