Ministers to discuss intangible heritage as a mirror of cultural diversityParis - Languages, religious and social customs, songs, plays, dances, celebrations and craft skills distinguish cultures from one another and deserve to be preserved "for the good of humanity" and future generations just as much as the Egyptian pyramids or historic buildings in the centre of Quito.
These manifestations of human creativity reflect and perpetuate cultural diversity and are part of the so-called "intangible heritage of humanity". Just like historic sites and monuments of tangible cultural heritage as well as parks and landscapes of our natural heritage, they are vulnerable to the effects of globalization, mass tourism and war.
What exactly qualifies as intangible cultural heritage? Why must we preserve it? Who should do that and how? To answer questions like these, UNESCO and the Government of Turkey invited all Member States to a round-table in Istanbul on September 16 and 17. About 100 countries will be represented, including 80 ministers of culture.
During a round-table discussion entitled "Intangible Cultural Heritage, a Mirror of Cultural Diversity", to be inaugurated by UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura, decision-makers and civil society stakeholders will for the first time discuss together what government policies are needed to safeguard intangible cultural heritage, which is, by definition, fragile.
UNESCO believes that all countries should be encouraged to inventory these forms of cultural expressions in their societies, with the active help of researchers, creators and guardians of such cultures. Governments and communities must be persuaded of the value of this intangible heritage and urged to promote local and national management bodies, educational programmes and national legislation. Mechanisms for technical and financial assistance must also be estblished.
This task is all the more urgent because, as Mr Matsuura emphasizes, "intangible cultural heritage is not just the memory of past cultures, but is also a laboratory for inventing the future."
Intangible heritage and cultural diversity, the main focus of the round-table, are key issues of concern for UNESCO, whose Member States adopted about a year ago the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity. The Declaration affirms that cultural diversity is "one of the roots of development" and "as necessary for humankind as biodiversity is for nature."
Last year, UNESCO proclaimed 19 cultural spaces or forms of popular expression from all over the world as "Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity". They included the Sicilian puppet theatre (Italy), the Oruro carnival (Bolivia), Kunqu opera (China), the music of the transverse trumpets of Tagbana community (Côte d'Ivoire) and the cultural space of Djamaa el-Fna Square, in Marrakesh (Morocco)*. Regular additions will be made to this inventory. A second proclamation of cultural manifestations is scheduled for 2003.
UNESCO is now working on an international convention to protect this intangible heritage. "I hope [it] will lead to a set of principles and measures that are universally acceptable (…) with a view not to constraining and immobilizing but rather to facilitating the invention of new forms of national and international solidarity," says Mr Matsuura.
The round-table in Istanbul, a city that straddles two continents and cultures, will be an ideal place to move towards this goal. To do nothing, warns Mr Matsuura, "would be a breach of our obligations to future generations. For societies that neglect their vital core are fated to perish."
The round-table will be held in the Hotel Çiragan Palace Kempinski (Istanbul), from 9.30 a.m. on September 16, with simultaneous translation in the UN's six official languages (Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, French, English and Russian).
Contact: Lucía Iglesias Kuntz
Bureau of Public Information, Editorial Section
Tel in Istanbul: (+33) (0) 6 14 69 54 98
A B-Roll on intangible heritage is available
Tel: (+33) (0)1 45 68 17 38