01.09.2011 - ODG

“Building Cultural Bridges for Development” – Politika (Serbia), Vjesnik (Croatia), Oslobodjenje (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Dnevnik (the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) and Trud (Bulgaria)

Editorial article by Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, on the occasion of the 9th Regional Summit of Heads of State of South East Europe held in Belgrade, Serbia on 1 and 2 September 2011. On 1 September, this article was published on ‘Politika’ (Serbia), Vjesnik (Croatia), Oslobodjenje (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Dnevnik (the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) and Trud (Bulgaria), in each country’s native languages. The English version of this article follows here below.

Building cultural bridges for development

On 1 and 2 September 2011, the Heads of State of South-East Europe are meeting in Belgrade for their ninth annual summit, organized with UNESCO, on the theme “contemporary art and reconciliation”. Since the first of these summits, held in Ohrid in 2003, they have been indispensable, enabling leaders to reaffirm their commitment to use culture, the arts and the heritage to move dialogue, reconciliation and development forward in a region that is a religious, ethnic and cultural mosaic.

UNESCO has accompanied this process from the outset. The peoples of South-East Europe share a heritage of unprecedented wealth, the cradle of European civilization, and one of the features of this heritage is its diversity. Our collective responsibility is to make it a heritage that is genuinely shared and to encourage all initiatives to that end.

The reconstruction of the Old Bridge at Mostar, destroyed by the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, is one of the symbols of culture’s capacity to build unity in diversity. The effort to make culture the cement of mutual understanding and social cohesion must be strengthened. Transnational projects for joint inclusion in the World Heritage List are an example of this endeavour and UNESCO supports them unreservedly. I am referring here to the cooperation between Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia for the inclusion of the medieval tombstones of Stećaks, and with Slovenia for the inclusion of Dinaric Karst. We must see culture in the broad sense, not confined to the built or intangible heritage. I am referring to the organization of travelling exhibitions, of exchanges between museums, cross-border events and festivals, in symbolic locations such as famous bridges, so as to shed light on the common journeys peoples have taken and to prevent each of them jealously guarding their own history. We must build bridges that are far more solid throughout the region, reaching far beyond political circles, between artists, intellectuals, teachers and curators, and make young people more aware of the importance of valuing the heritage, as a source of national pride, of course, but above all as part of a common heritage.

At the same time, it is essential to give more weight to culture at the heart of sustainable economic and social development policies.

That was already the objective in 2003. The stability of the region today invites us to double our efforts. Modern art, networks of young artists, the media, cultural industries and cultural tourism are levers for growth, job creation and sources of income. UNESCO would like to encourage the States of the region to invest collectively and massively in these fields, by supporting groups of intellectuals, by assisting the region’s talented young people, artists, poets, architects and musicians. The centres of excellence established by UNESCO will back up that joint effort, as in Sofia for the intangible heritage, Zadar for the underwater heritage, Skopje for the digitization of the heritage and Tirana for the conservation of monuments.

There are great many projects and the challenge consists in broadening their scope and making them more consistent at the regional level. I have therefore decided to launch a major initiative: Culture: A Bridge for Development, with the aim precisely of networking the intellectuals, creative artists and culture professionals of the entire region so as to make it easier for them to make a joint commitment to urban development projects. The initiative was approved in principle in Belgrade in June 2011 by the region’s ministers of culture. I hereby appeal to all cultural institutions, artists, teachers, curators and historians to join us in this endeavour.
If we succeed, we would be able to extend this model of cooperation to other parts of the world. The management of cultural diversity and the search for new development models are universal concerns. I am convinced that the countries of South-East Europe, through their recent historical transformations, have a unique experience to share with all those who are today experiencing major democratic and economic change. The Summit that is opening on 1 September, much more than an annual gathering, must be the opportunity to demonstrate our collective commitment to make this conviction a reality for all.

- Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO

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