SARAJEVO (Reuters Life!) - Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro agreed on Monday to nominate medieval tombstones scattered across the region and known as 'Stecci' as their shared cultural heritage to the UN World Heritage List.
Government ministers from the countries that were once part of the socialist Yugoslavia signed a letter of intent to work together to popularize and protect a joint cultural heritage, a rare move of cooperation after the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
"The culture of Stecci has crossed political borders of our states and has become a component of national cultures in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro," Croatian Culture Minister Bozo Biskupic told a news conference.
"We shall work together in the future to analyze and popularize phenomena that are common to us," Biskupic added.
Stecci are medieval tombstones known for their unique decorative symbols and carvings, originating in the 12th century and often linked to the heretic Bosnian Church. About 60,000 of them have been found in Bosnia alone and nearly 10,000 in the neighboring three countries.
"I feel this as a start of a new era of cooperation among our four countries," said Montenegro's Culture Minister Branislav Micunovic.
The Western Balkans comprises six successor states of the former Yugoslavia and Kosovo and Albania. The former republics share centuries of common history and cultural heritage as their borders had fluctuated under occupying powers that have included the Ottoman Turks, the Austro-Hungarian empire and the Nazis.
Each country has its own cultural and historic monuments on the list of protected heritage of the United Nations Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO), and each has nominated more of those but this is the first joint act.
Croatia has seven cultural and natural sites on the UNESCO list as well as seven specific cultural phenomena, such as folk songs, some of which it has shared with Bosnia, for example.
Serbia has six monuments on the list and Montenegro three, including the Mediterranean historic town of Kotor. Bosnia has two bridges from the Ottoman-era on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Paul Casciato)