considering the political stand off between thailand and cambodia since the inscription of preah vihear on the world heritage list, it is interesting how the world heritage status can spark long dormant conflicts and provoke legal cases. this may tarnish what the ideals of the outstanding universal value is all about, but it nevertheless adds to the complications, intrigues that make some sites interesting beyond the criteria that they met upon inscription. so which world heritage site do you think is the most controversial?
here are some of the site which i think are quite controversial not only from the government or public standpoint, but even among the members of the committee approving which sites are inscribed. so in that case, instead of unanimous approval, sites are inscribed by through a ballot. the list is in no particular order:
- preah vihear temple has hugged the headlines in recent weeks. border issue is the main conflict between cambodia and thailand. on the other hand, unesco maintains that the inscription was made because the nomination was technically sound, and the fact that the representative from thailand supported inscription, before he was fired for doing so
- hiroshima memorial. china and united states disassociated themselves from the inscription of this site, alluding to world war ii sentiments.
- koguryo tombs. south korea protested on china's meddling, which according to them resulted to the deferral of the north korean nomination. the chinese and north korean sites were inscribed on the same year, but separately.
- potala palace. not really much controversy when it was inscribed. but became controversial eventually from the uncontrolled development and restorations being done. critics claim that the tibetan identity of this place is being eroded and sinicized.
- las medulas. some state parties disapproved of the inscription, claiming that the landscape of devastation does not really merit a place on the list.
- w national park of niger. not really sure about the controversy behind this, but it took a vote for the site to be eventually placed on the list.
- provins. this place was inscribed despite some state parties' claim that the infastructures related to medieval fairs, the main basis for inscription, is no longer extant and other places are better preserved in showcasing the site. icomos even got dragged in, since the state parties questioned the eventual reversal in recommendation, from one that should not be inscribed, to one of inscription.
- jerusalem. the nomination was prepared by jordan, and israel sought to extend the site, but the committee deferred such actions until the status of the place is settled.
- arabian oryx sanctuary. will forever be in the hall of fame as the first site ever delisted.
- some state parties appear to downplay possibly major issues that may block the sites' bid for inscription as minor or non-issues. but right after the inscription, the issues become more apparent. examples include the bridge building in dresden elbe valley (one cannot help but think that if the site was inscribed on the list after the bridge was built, unesco might be more considerate, with just a footnote that the committee regrets the new bridge as impeding the site's value, but not enough to put in on the hot seat of being delisted). three parallel rivers also comes to mind. right after inscription, plans for major dams arose.
here are some nominations which never made it on the list due to some controversies too or are currently on the tentative list but are too controversial:
- most recent is majuli island. reports claim that there was so much political haggling instead of focusing on the technicality of the site's nomination that the effort fizzled. (hmm, quite the opposite for preah vihear, excellent nomination technically that overrode the political situation)
- karakorum national park. pakistan nominated this. but upon india's protest, this was deferred until the border dispute is settled (how about doing a preah vihear then?).
- bamiyan buddhas. it was nominated in the 1980s but was not successful. but it was certain that unesco might have taken criticism on what could have been. instead it waited until these were destroyed before proclaiming the site as of patrimony (of course, unesco is not wholly responsible, if america, the eu, and even the un couldn't do anything with the taliban then, what more can unesco?) but such a retrospect allowed for the establishment of the immediate inscriptions of sites both on the list and in danger list. then again, such an effort is more reactive than proactive. unesco will allow the heritage merit to override the technicalities of the nomination only when the danger is impending, and maybe even irreversible, as in the case of the bamiyan buddhas. such was also the case in bam, although it can be rebuilt. but note that right after the earthquake, many articles stated that bam is a world heritage site, despite not being yet officially proclaimed as such by unesco. so how much sites that have undoubtedly displayed outstanding universal value will have to be destroyed or damaged first before unesco scrambles to put them on the list?
- sites on the us tentative list. many americans and even prominent politicians have become increasingly opposed to the idea of world heritage, citing that it impedes the sovereignty of a country over the sites that are located in its territory. examples include the white sands national monument, in which the locals are really against the nomination. is this the main reason why no american sites were inscribed in more than 10 years?
on a side note, i just would like to comment on unesco's attempt to inscribed sites on the danger list due to urban encroachment and development. so what does heritage mean? is it just simply preserving the past? or is it also looking forward? if it is looking forward, then a corollary to that is how much of the past are we willing to take forward, and how much are we willing to sacrifice? for unesco, it may mean that modern development should complement and in some ways not clash with the past. unesco always shows concern when the urban skyline of a world heritage city is broken by modern development, such may even lead to the endangered list inscription. but one cannot help think that if the world heritage movement was in existence from the early-20th century, and if paris was inscribed on the list, what will they think of the eiffel tower? will they be horrified that it broke the skyline of the french capital (after all, it's the tallest structure of the time, and many people even thought it was visually ugly) to the point that it will be put on the danger list? and what next? will paris be delisted, or will the eiffel tower be dismantled? in any case, who knows, maybe gustave eiffel's prestige, fame and architectural merit maybe enought for unesco to even praise the eiffel tower as complementing the skyline. but one cannot help but think that an eyesore now might be the priceless jewel of a place in the future, so how will unesco deal with that possibility?