Intangible Cultural Heritage and the Challenges of Contemporary Global Governance

The panel discussion moderated by Prof. Alicja Jagielska-Burduk, delved into the complexities of safeguarding ICH in the context of evolving global governance frameworks. The speakers included Prof. Marc Jacobs, Dr. Andrzej Jakubowski, and Dr. Maja Kominko, each bringing unique insights from their extensive research and field experience.

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Recording, transcription and reflections after the roundtable

Recording of the roundtable titled „Intangible Cultural Heritage and the Challenges of Contemporary Global Governance”, that was a part of UNESCO Chair on Intangible Cultural Heritage in Public and Global Governance Opening Event (March 14th, 2024, University of Warsaw)
Recap

The panel discussion on „Intangible Cultural Heritage and the Challenges of Contemporary Global Governance,” moderated by Prof. Alicja Jagielska-Burduk, delved into the complexities of safeguarding intangible cultural heritage (ICH) in the context of evolving global governance frameworks. The speakers included Prof. Marc Jacobs, Dr. Andrzej Jakubowski, and Dr. Maja Kominko, each bringing unique insights from their extensive research and field experience.

Alicja Jagielska-Burduk opened the discussion by underscoring the importance of collaborative efforts in the field of ICH, particularly highlighting the role of the newly established UNESCO chair at the University of Opole. She expressed enthusiasm about the interdisciplinary approach of the conference and the synergy between tangible and intangible cultural heritage. Jagielska-Burduk set the stage for a detailed exploration of how global and community-level cooperation can enhance the safeguarding of cultural heritage, emphasizing that „it’s not a one-man show but a collaborative effort.” She posed a crucial question about the challenges related to ICH and global governance, inviting Prof. Marc Jacobs to share his insights.

Prof. Marc Jacobs

Prof. Marc Jacobs responded by discussing the significance of the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, referring to it as a „treasure trove” of rules and opportunities. He highlighted the evolution of the convention’s basic texts, mentioning recent additions such as chapters on sustainable development and the overall results framework used to structure periodic reports from countries. Jacobs pointed out the emergence of networks like the European network of Focal Points, which have fostered regional cooperation. However, he stressed the need for a broader, more inclusive approach that goes beyond European perspectives to incorporate global governance. He emphasized the potential of operational directives to activate 'sleeping beauties’—untapped aspects of the convention that could enhance global collaboration on safeguarding heritage.

Dr Andrzej Jakubowski

Dr. Andrzej Jakubowski took the discussion further by exploring the legal challenges and participatory governance of cultural heritage. He highlighted the dichotomy between state-oriented structures of international law and the need for inclusive participation that transcends national boundaries. Jakubowski discussed the dynamics of international cultural heritage law as a governance sector, requiring active engagement from various stakeholders, including local and national governments, communities, and NGOs. He elaborated on the legal nuances of safeguarding and protection, drawing attention to different international conventions and their implications for participatory governance.

Dr Maja Kominko

Dr. Maja Kominko shared compelling experiences from her work in conflict and crisis zones like Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Ukraine. She illustrated the practical challenges of protecting cultural heritage in these contexts, using specific examples such as the ancient city of Shibam in Yemen, known as the 'Chicago of the Desert.’ Kominko discussed how the knowledge of local masons, essential for maintaining the city’s mudbrick skyscrapers, is not recognized as intangible heritage by UNESCO, despite the city itself being a designated site. She highlighted the paradox where physical sites are protected without safeguarding the essential skills needed to maintain them. Kominko’s experiences underscored the critical need for integrating intangible heritage into the broader framework of heritage protection, especially in settings affected by conflict and social upheaval.

Throughout the discussion, the panelists emphasized the need for a more nuanced and inclusive approach to the governance of cultural heritage. They advocated for the adoption of innovative governance models that acknowledge the decentralized nature of ICH and incorporate diverse cultural authorities and decision-making centers into international frameworks. The debate revealed both the challenges and opportunities of integrating new approaches into existing structures, pointing toward a future where global and local perspectives are interwoven more effectively in the safeguarding of cultural heritage.

Highlights

[We should] try to change those Operational Directives and open the way to have these new techniques of collaboration all over the world as a possibility. So that’s a challenge to change the global rules, and I’m sure we can do research to prepare this and to influence this process.

Marc Jacobs

Establishing a new UNESCO Chair on ICH here means there is another player in terms of changing the rules and changing the world.

Alicja Jagielska-Burduk

You can see that in the field of cultural heritage, especially intangible, there is a problem between what is state interest, what is public policy, and what is community participation, and who is the actor of heritage, who benefits from the protection or safeguarding.

Andrzej Jakubowski

(…) terms like safeguarding and protection (…) for lawyers (…) are not the same. Why? Because there are two conventions now, two conventions that are very close to each other. So there’s the Convention on the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage and the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expression. They both came from one UNESCO Declaration on Cultural Diversity but went in different directions.

Andrzej Jakubowski

How can we empower communities thanks to artificial intelligence? That’s really an important challenge for the next years.

Marc Jacobs

What I would request to all UNESCO chair holders is to work outside Europe a little bit. That’s because the laws and regulations – they’re great. It’s just that they’re completely unrealistic in most of the countries where I work.

Maja Kominko

[In Pakistan] many of the older generations do not read or write. So one of our Pakistani colleagues for our project developed a version of a website that people can access on a phone, but it’s not based on text: it’s relying on image and voice. And this is something that UNESCO chairs might also consider, because the reality on the ground is that there are many people who use phones, but they do not read or write.

Maja Kominko

Consider the Ship of Theseus, a vessel that returns with every part replaced— is it still the same ship? This analogy is useful for understanding heritage because, unlike tangible heritage, we should not expect intangible heritage to remain unchanged. We do not wear 17th-century clothes today, yet we often expect people in Asia or Africa to adhere to what we deem as 'authentic,’ which isn’t fair.

Maja Kominko
Transcription of the roundtable

Alicja Jagielska-Burduk:

It’s truly a fantastic adventure to be here and to feel the vibe of the newly established UNESCO chair. Do you feel it? We all hope to see how the team develops, as it’s not a one-man show but a collaborative effort. The essence of our work is how to cooperate with the team, how to build networking. I will definitely be following your accomplishments. We have about 60 minutes for the best panel discussion, as Hanna already mentioned, and a short Q&A session will follow. If there are any questions through Zoom, I trust someone will let me know. So please, feel free to write them down. Welcome to all participants, those present in person and those online. As our panelists have been introduced, it is my pleasure to gather in Warsaw to celebrate this special occasion. Indeed, Hanna has gathered experts from around the world for this conference and for this Intangible Heritage Week. Today, our panel will discuss intangible cultural heritage and the challenges of contemporary global governance. I believe everyone has something to share from their extensive experience in scholarship, research, or professional projects. First, I would like to ask about challenges concerning ICH and global governance Professor Marc Jacobs.

Marc Jacobs:

Thank you, Alicja. We are scholars, and Hanna is also well-known for publishing numerous books and articles. We share this publishing culture, and one distinctive characteristic of professors holding a UNESCO Chair in Intangible Heritage is that you can always spot them with this blue book—the Basic Text of the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. This is what we have in common. What we normally do is akin to exploring a treasure trove; it’s full of rules and regulations, but also of 'sleeping beauties’—aspects you can activate. Over the last few years, these basic texts have grown. There have been additional chapters on sustainable development. There’s also something called an overall results framework, which is being used to structure the periodic reports of countries, which is quite important. One of the outcomes is that Electoral Groups I and II—essentially Europe and North America—have joined forces. There is a network, the European network of Focal Points, that has emerged in recent years, and together, they are developing all kinds of projects at the European level. Next week, there will be one of the final conferences of the Charter project, a European project reorganizing heritage education and creating a heritage sector in Europe. So, from a European perspective, things are going well, but perhaps there could be more we could do. One of the things if you go to a butcher shop in Belgium and you order, for instance, 200 grams of something, they always say, „Can it be a little bit more?” And then try to sell you extra. This is also why this book is here. Can we do a bit more? The challenge is not just European governance but global governance, and that’s where interesting things could happen. At the moment, you have this tendency to organize everything within electoral groups, so you have this strong European and Eurocentric approach, and that’s why I wanted to focus the attention on one of those sleeping beauties in the Blue Book. And I will read it: „The Intergovernmental Committee encourages the submission of sub-regional or regional programs, projects, and activities, which can include those undertaken jointly by state parties in geographically discontinuous areas”. I am very intrigued by this notion of geographically discontinuous areas and the lace logo that Hanna shows. It’s a lot of small pieces of thread combining, but also a lot of open space in it, and everything is connected. I think it’s a good metaphor for these discontinuous areas, how we can connect. One of the things I really hope for is that there will be proposals combining ways of safeguarding because it’s about projects and programs. So, this is Article 18, looking for good practices. Proposals from countries, for instance, South America, Asia, Europe, and other parts of the world. There are a few examples, like midwifery, so women or men helping to give birth. There’s something proposed for the Representative List, but we are still waiting for these proposals from other parts of the world. I think this is a global challenge, something to do, and I really hope that someone will take the initiative to start doing this because that’s what we need. It’s not a tendency in UNESCO now, because everything is now organized via those groups. So Europe has understood, but I do hope we have this international collaboration, and I will conclude with that I find it fascinating that for this Chair, they also chose artificial intelligence as one of the new innovative ways to approach this. And if you look at that notion of geographically discontinuous areas and think about what artificial intelligence and global networking can offer, it offers new possibilities, and I don’t think with the concept of geographically discontinuous areas, we will get there. So, we will need something else. And one of the nice things about these Operational Directives, in contrast to the Convention, is that they can change. And I really hope that we can find partners, and perhaps Hanna could be a partner with other Chairs, to try to change those Operational Directives and open the way to have these new techniques of collaboration all over the world as a possibility. So that’s a challenge to change the global rules, and I’m sure we can do research to prepare this and to influence this process. So it’s quite a challenge for us.

Alicja Jagielska-Burduk:

Thank you very much indeed. It’s a challenge, but also as you mentioned, the role of Operational Directives or Guidelines in terms of UNESCO 1970 Convention is something useful, a useful tool to change the interpretation, to have this so-called aggressive interpretation, and to change the world. Establishing a new UNESCO Chair on ICH here means there is another player in terms of changing the rules and changing the world. I’m looking at Matteo, but he’s still calm, so still we can change the world in this area, and as it was really important, you mentioned the AI and how it builds bridges, the scope, the mandate of the Chair—past, present, and future, in terms of AI, was visible in those three excellent examples, three shields. Thank you, thank you, Marc. And now, if possible, Professor Andrzej Jakubowski, what are your thoughts? Because we all know the cultural participation paradigm is your second name and the great expert first.

Andrzej Jakubowski:

Yes, thank you so much, Alicja, and it is wonderful to see so many people involved in this topic. I would like once again to congratulate Hanna for this achievement and to wish lots of strength for the next years of this project. I was asked to talk about the question of the legal point of view, the challenges of global governance in relation to cultural heritage, with a special focus on intangible heritage, and obviously, the topic is really important because today, international cultural heritage law has become more of a governance sector than merely a legal field, for many reasons. This convention, the Convention on the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, is one of the best examples because it really requires the involvement of many people, not only states, because the first challenge for cultural heritage is the question of the state-oriented structure of international law. And this is kind of a truism to say, but this is the point from which we need to start. And also today, when I was listening to the short introductions and the beautiful speeches in the morning, I think that you could also build on this problem because some speakers, depending on their background and position, were focusing on the role of departmental or local government, or national government, and some of them were really emphasizing the problem of community participation. And you can see that in the field of cultural heritage, especially intangible, there is a problem between what is state interest, what is public policy, and what is community participation, and who is the actor of heritage, who benefits from the protection or safeguarding. And this is another question. It’s really close because also today we could see that the speakers in the morning were using some terms like safeguarding and protection interchangeably, and for lawyers, these are not the same. And why? Because there are two conventions now, two conventions that are very close to each other. So there’s the Convention on the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage and the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expression. They both came from one UNESCO Declaration on Cultural Diversity but went in different directions. And so why I’m talking also about participation is because this is something I was also asked to present, this background, because within the International Law Association, which is one of the biggest NGOs associated with the United Nations, now one of the oldest legal associations, for the years 2018-2020, 50 legal experts worked on the topic of participation in global governance. And what was the mandate? So there were two aspects of this research. So one was to look at the practice of the first legal regulation, so the rules, and then the practice at the global level, so especially looking at the practice of monitoring bodies like intergovernmental committees and human rights committees and so on and so forth, so both experts and so on and so forth. And then the second part was focused on the national implementation, so we analyzed maybe more than 45 international organizations and also more than 30 national jurisdictions looking at national practice and the problem also, Marc, you mentioned that we’ve got this different group of states and they also have particular interests and so on and so forth on nominating and selecting heritage, and this is not only the question of tangible heritage. Generally speaking, the system of listing within UNESCO is very problematic for the scope of many conventions now, especially intangible, but also with heritage. So the system of listing, who chooses, who is to choose the exact expression or site or tradition, then the evaluation and the question of who decides what to choose or what to eliminate. So for instance, we’ve got this problem in many countries that some traditions are neglected or will never be safeguarded or never be promoted at the international level as one of the speakers said today. And this is the problem of how the system works, so it’s very much still up to the states to decide. And we observed in our research within the International Law Association that this is the major problem, that at the global level, this interaction, the space for participation, for inclusion of non-state participants, for those actors, for those who benefit from heritage policies and legislation, is still very limited. However, on the level of national law, the Intangible Heritage Convention really changed the system in many states. In many states, ratification and implementation of the Convention indeed changed how participation is introduced in national systems. So especially in Europe, when usually participation is very much structured through institutions, so very much institutionalized, the introduction of this new system provided a wider space for different communities to have their voice heard. And to give you an example from one of the most iconic systems for heritage protection, France—local committee participation was quite limited, very much concentrated on governmental policies, and the creation of a new space for the protection of intangible heritage opened discussions and new ways to introduce this voice. Obviously, now the key challenge, obviously from the legal point of view when we talk about the global, national, and domestic level, and I will conclude at this point, is the question of the procedural aspects. So what are the procedures, how to involve people, who has standing at the national level, so who can represent the community before the public authorities, and how this voice is really implemented, and in some states, thanks to this Convention, thanks to Operational Directives, there were major changes. For instance, creating from the evaluation, from the creation of the project, then the process of consulting at the level of legislating, and very often also which is super crucial for any cultural policy, the final review and improvement for the future, how the policy was introduced, what was the effect, and what are the shortcomings, and how to improve for the future. And this part of review in many national systems, not mentioning global system, is missing. Thank you.

Alicja Jagielska-Burduk:

Thank you, Andrzej. Indeed, it’s like you said, the situation at the national level is oftentimes more clear than what is going on at the international platform, but still, it can go both ways. So the role of UNESCO Convention facilitators is here of essence, but also people involved in terms of engaging community members. And now I would like to invite our third distinguished speaker, Maja Kominko, a cultural heritage professional with over a decade of experience in establishing, managing projects, and programs in areas of conflicts and crisis. Maja has been a European Research Council research fellow at Oxford and is now managing various preservation projects with a huge responsibility. Maja, the floor is yours, you strong and powerful woman among us.

Maja Kominko:

My PhD is in archaeology, but I have really worked on manuscripts, and for the last 15 years, I have been working with cultural heritage protection projects. As a director at Arcadia, a scientific director at ALIPH Foundation, which is an international organization, and now as the director of Projects in Heritage Management Organization in Greece and Chicago, I need to stress that I am not a lawyer, so I hope Andrzej will forgive my imprecise vocabulary. I also need to stress that my experience is from countries at war or recovering from crisis, so nothing that I say is a criticism. These are just points from the ground. And I would like to make three points and illustrate them with four photographs. These are all from projects I worked on or, in the last case, a project we are beginning, which will be in Slide 4. So this is a very interesting site, one of the most impressive sites I have ever worked on. This is in Yemen, Shibam, which is sometimes called the 'Chicago of the Desert’. It is in Wadi Hadramaut in the Yemeni Highlands, and this is a city of skyscrapers built of mud. The reason I’m mentioning it here is that it’s a UNESCO heritage site, one of the first, if not the first, UNESCO Heritage site in Yemen. But this particular city dates from the 16th century; there was a city before, but it was destroyed by a flood. So the city, as it stands, dates to the 16th century. But in reality, there are no houses that are older than 300 years. In fact, most houses are younger than 200 years, and this is because such is the character of earth architecture that it has to be renewed periodically. The houses are built back the way they were, or the way they were remembered, which is not always the same thing. But the point here is that the city is protected by UNESCO. It is a UNESCO heritage site. However, the knowledge of the masons, the local masons, is not listed as one of the intangible heritages protected by UNESCO. So there is a bit of a paradox because the site as such cannot be protected if there are no masons knowing how to build these buildings. This is becoming particularly problematic because of climate change: there is an increasing infestation of various insects. The growing temperatures are curious case because they change people’s behavior. For example, traditionally, people sleep on their roofs. The roofs have very wide, very high parapets, and people used to play music there. Now, it’s simply too hot. The traditions related to music are disappearing. At the same time, there is an impact on architecture because more and more often air conditioners are being installed there. So, this is an interesting case where we try to protect one thing but not the other, and we really can’t. Can I have the second slide? So this is a recent photo, unfortunately. And this is a flip side of previous case. So this is a temple of Khidr Elias in earlier Shingal or Shingar, depending on the existing version. This is an example temple. The Khidr Elias is a very interesting tradition. This is a saint sometimes identified with one of the figures in the Quran. But he became very popular. It’s one of the syncretic figures of the Middle East. He sometimes identified also with Saint George. In Iraq, he is venerated and celebrated by virtually all communities—by Shia, by Sunnis, by Yazidis, by Christians, and even by Mandaeans. The tradition has been inscribed on the UNESCO Intangible Heritage List (see: https://ich.unesco.org/en/RL/khidr-elias-feast-and-its-vows-01159), but none of the temples have, and this is, as I said, the flip side of the situation in Yemen because especially for Yazidis, many of the ceremonies related to this tradition are very choreographed and have to happen at a specific place such as this temple. This temple was destroyed by ISIS in 2014, so no ceremony took place from 2014, quite aside from the fact that only 20% of the city population remains in Shingal, but from 2014 there was no ceremony in its full scale, so the ability of the community to preserve this tradition is very small because there is a growing generation of Yazidis that never had a chance to participate in this ceremony. Third case is where not only from UNESCO side, but generally, there is no mechanism of protection, and this is a heritage of communities that are refugees. These are Afghanis, as you probably have guessed. And the photo in the top left is a photo from Herat from July 2023 when the Taliban burned musical instruments, not only traditional but all musical instruments. The point is that while there was a very big attention to what happens with Buddhist heritage in Afghanistan, understandably so in the context of the Bamiyan Buddhas, there was literally no attention to what happens with music, with traditional musicians. And this is the only type of music of cultural expressions that has been outright banned. So, of course, what happens to women in Afghanistan is horrible, but musicians are persecuted, so it is punishable by law to practice traditional music. They are often targeted. Most of them managed to escape abroad, and this is with great help from Aga Khan Trust for Culture. Otherwise, they were largely abandoned. The traditional music school now exists in Portugal, but there is no mechanism to protect and to ensure that musical masters of Afghanistan can practice their music wherever they are. In as much as I know, the only legal effort to protect them was under the Refugee 1951 convention as a special social group, but this is really not helpful because this, in a sense, separates them from the rest of the community, and this is not how music works in Afghanistan. This is not how any intangible tradition works, in fact. So this is a very big problem. And the last photo I had, and I’m very proud to say that this is a project we are starting. It’s going to launch on the 15th of April, and this is in Swat Valley, marked in yellow on the map, not in Pakistan. Historically this is a part of Gandhara culture. The Buddhist was alive there until late antiquity. It became predominantly Muslim on in the 11th century, but the reason I’m mentioning this in the context of intangible tradition that there is also one type of tradition that, in as much as I know, there is no mechanism to protect it. And this is when one community, in a sense, appropriates heritage of a different pre-existing community. And what is very interesting: this area is 90% Pashtun. Of course, all Pashtuns moved into this area from the 11th century, mostly in the 16th. But what is very interesting and what has not been even documented, is that the local Pashtun groups have an enormous amount of intangible tradition relating to Buddhist cultures. And what is also very interesting is that these traditions are uniformly positive. We haven’t found yet one story that will talk about these cultures in any negative ways, which is also perhaps a reason why the one of the Buddha Buddhas was attacked by the Taliban. That was seen as something very reprehensible by the community, and that was a single case. The rest of the sculptures were protected by the community, even though from the point of view of strict, regular, strict international regulations. They are often claimed by Koreans, by Chinese, by Japanese, but they also belong – this is not either/or – to the tradition of the local Muslim population. Understandably, they have lived with these cultures for 6 centuries. So these are the four problems I wanted to touch on. Thank you.

Alicja Jagielska-Burduk:

Thank you, Maja. It’s really impressive—the scope of your projects, including the forthcoming ones. As you mentioned World Heritage sites, the intangible dimension is also crucial, especially in terms of inscription. You provided a great example of this. Without skills, safeguarding tangible cultural heritage is not feasible, and the mobility and isolation of musicians remind me of the situation in Ukraine and ongoing research projects analyzing how Ukrainian intangible cultural heritage will remain or be recreated. Thank you very much. Now for the second round, I’ll turn to our colleague from Antwerp: what are your remarks and perhaps, from the perspective of a UNESCO chair holder, some of the biggest challenges, since it’s not only about goals?

Marc Jacobs:

One of the challenges and also methods to work together is to establish this network, and already Hanna has invited a number of colleagues in May to discuss about collaboration. And that’s definitely one of the plans to set up this network, even a teaching network among UNESCO chairs, and perhaps go for the Erasmus Mundus program. So, we definitely have plans in that sense. I think, as a second challenge nearby, and I know Hanna is also involved, this is the discussion going on about Article 18, the Register of Good Practices on other ways to exchange information. And one of the points on the agenda of the meeting of the General Assembly of the 2003 Convention in June is to change the rules a little bit for that Article 18, and also to set up an online platform for exchanging information. And it addresses the points you made. So there was a strong advocacy, also Hanna participated in this to set up this platform in UNESCO or just outside UNESCO so that communities, groups, and individuals can actually exchange and share things. So a lot of resistance from a lot of countries who say: no, no, this has to pass always through the state. But at the moment, the jury is still out, so there are still possibilities, and at the moment, this platform is being created and I really hope we can push open the doors so that these kind of exchanges can happen. And that’s where the chairs can already play a role by exchanging among ourselves without going through the states structure and the hidden agenda is that also community groups and individuals could use that platform. That’s a second point and the third point is… if you look at the people who are coordinators of these UNESCO chairs, they have several hats, so they are often, like Hanna, member of the national delegation, involved in NGOs, acting as a go-between both on the international but also on the local level, as a mediator, translator, culture broker, and that’s one of the powerful things that can happen. And that’s why I think UNESCO chair is still another hat you can wear, and sometimes you can present yourself like here I’m UNESCO chair holder. In other circumstances, I use other hats. And I know that’s also something that Hanna will do. And together, with now, as she has joined the family of UNESCO chair… That’s something we talk about during in the evenings of these meetings of, for instance, the Intergovernmental Committee or other occasions, and I think the fact that you are able to move through all these networks and do it in a reflexive way because that’s you don’t only share to share this book, but also this notion of reflexivity. I think we are very well aware that we are actors, but we are also aware of ethical dimensions, discussions going on and that’s one of the roles we try to do to act in a good way, flexibly think about that, also publish about this… So I really like the fact that we have so many hats that we can responsibly use.

Alicja Jagielska-Burduk:

I love the remak on changing hats and being men of many hats or female women of many hats. Right. Today, Professor Kleiber, president of the Polish National Commission, mentioned also UNESCO family because you mentioned the family of chairs, but let’s look at it a little bit further. Let’s go beyond just chairs network because the UNESCO family is also ASPNet schools, UNESCO associated schools, creative cities networks and other networks organized or supervised or affiliated at UNESCO, as well as programs and designations. So, for instance, I believe that there is still huge niche to make and build bridges between them. Within the National Commission for UNESCO, we try, for instance, to involve ASPNet schools with UNESCO chairs. So Hanna, be aware of it. And this is kind of a standard-setting ping to merge them all  connect not only in terms of research but also dissemination education. Education was also very, very, very open mentioned today. So I totally agree with you. But I would like to point out this necessity and this need to build links between all UNESCO family members. Because as far as schools are concerned: schools are the oldest network. Last year it was the 70th anniversary. And as UNESCO chairs program, UNITWIN Program, we only are 32 years old.

Andrzej Jakubowski:

I would like to refer to one question raised by Maja and Marc. So, because Maja, I think you pointed out a really important thing now, concerning armed conflicts. But also, when we think about international law and how it’s implemented at the national level, the question—who is the community and who has the voice?—is what is traditionally protected. It’s really important, especially since you mentioned the issue of refugees. Here, I think there should be stronger cooperation with the special procedure within the Human Rights Council concerning who really are the minorities, what is the concept of minority in international law? The current special rapporteur emphasized in a number of her speeches that new minorities, such as some migrants and refugees, should be considered as groups requiring special protection. From this point of view, the cooperation between the mandate holder in Geneva and the system should be closer to the human rights perspective. You also mentioned the issue of access to information and best practices, which is very important. And here, I think it’s also crucial to think about the problem related to the limitation on access based on language. Basically today, we’ve got two languages used primarily, so for many communities, to prepare a document or even to access a document is very complicated because of language barriers. Maybe also for the mandate, Hanna, concerning AI, tools to provide better access through a diversity of languages would be very important. A few weeks ago, we had some colleagues observing the 2005 Convention discussions in Paris, where this exact issue was highlighted—that the ability to really benefit from the system of the 2005 Convention is limited by language barriers, especially voiced by representatives from Latin America. So as you mentioned, to get wider access to good practices and the implementation of this dissemination obligations under the Conventions, using AI and the use of AI in cooperation with human rights cases in terms of new minorities and communities, and related to refugees and economic migrants, is obviously very crucial. And also, we talked about the final point, which would be again on the procedural aspects, so I would really highlight what you said, that we should show from different networks, also at the civil society level, to push at the national level and also through UNESCO family at the global level, to really find good solutions. One of my slides was a picture from the Climate Change Council involving indigenous communities at the same level as representatives of states, which is one of the good examples that some solutions can be found, and they are already existing. So it is a long process, but this is the goal, this is the objective of the Convention also. Thank you.

Marc Jacobs:

One of the things I’m afraid of is that, thanks to ChatGPT, you can just ask, „Write me in appropriate language a successful UNESCO application file for the list.” And this is probably already possible. But what we need is also an AI solution. How do we really involve and listen to communities, groups, and individuals? And I think those two should be connected because it would be a wonderful tool according to many countries. Just put in some text, and we will pass everything, but how can we empower communities thanks to artificial intelligence? That’s really an important challenge for the next years.

Alicja Jagielska-Burduk:

Yes, indeed. Well, as you said, the outcome of AI and that GPT sometimes may not be the one we are expecting, but the idea is to feed it wisely. Obviously, it’s a self-learning algorithm, but at some point, you can deliver the content and then wait for it. Andrzej, I saw during your presentation Hanna was making notes. Now she’s playing with her mobile, but before she was making notes. So it really was impressive. And last but not least, Maja, what’s your impression from being a project manager, and what are your recommendations for Hanna in terms of ICH and also being a leader?

Maja Kominko:

So I really don’t want to take anything away from my colleagues. I don’t really work as a project manager. I help to establish projects and help to run them. But we always have a local person acting as the project manager. But just what I would request to all UNESCO chair holders is to work outside Europe a little bit. That’s because the laws and regulations, they’re great; it’s just that they’re completely unrealistic in most of the countries where I work. So just to say that to keep in contact with our colleagues there, one of the first things that any project starts with is installing solar panels because there’s no Internet. There are very few people in the city that speak any language other than the local form of Arabic to any extent. So you know, the reality of it is, people are poor, and they rarely have wise options. They are proud of their city. Their concerns are about daily survival. So in Iraq, this shared tradition, I mean I think that this was a phenomenal decision to inscribe a Khidr Elias feast on the UNESCO Intangible Heritage List, but there is a problem because Iraq has a system, Mufasa, which is a system of apportioning everything—Sunni, Shia, Kurdish, and minorities. Well, you see, these are interesting cases because technically they are probably Chaldeans, but they don’t identify as Kurds. The Kurds don’t identify these cities as Kurdish. So if it falls into the cracks and if the support is really apportionate, this part of the tradition is not going to be supported, or if it’s going to be supported, it’s going to be supported very unevenly. So in a sense, the Sunni or Shia and Christian traditions will prevail, which you know, it’s always a question: if we preserve a part of it, do we really preserve it, or in a sense, do we damage it equally if it’s changed? Which is one thing to add for the last photo from Pakistan. It’s about artificial intelligence. So one more… Well, the Buddha anyway. So in this valley, Swat Valley, it is very beautiful. It is becoming a tourist center for Pakistanis; it looks a little bit like Switzerland. There are good ski resorts, if you believe. So if the situation is changing for the better, but still there are quite a lot of people who can’t read or write in any language. I mean the situation is already complicated because though the majority speak Pashtun, there are also very interesting groups like the Kalash, but many of the older generations do not read or write. So one of our Pakistani colleagues for this project developed a version of a website that people can access on a phone, but it’s not based on text; it’s relying on image and voice. And this is something that UNESCO chairs might also consider, because the reality on the ground is that there are many people who use phones, but they do not read or write. So I understand the good intentions of text, but most of the people in these places won’t be able to use that ChatGPT. This is not something that exists for them, so this is also something to consider.

Alicja Jagielska-Burduk:

Here we come close to the UNESCO global priorities. So, indeed, and many other places where you said that people are not able to access the Internet, culture, and they are just trying to get through the day. I would like to ask, are there any comments or maybe questions from the room?

Agnieszka Pawlowska-Mainville:

Hello, my name is Agnieszka Pawlowska-Mainville. I’m a UNESCO Chair of Living Heritage and Sustainable Livelihoods in Northern Canada. And thank you so much for this wonderful opportunity to listen and learn. One of the reasons why I’m here is to actually learn from a lot of the practices—best practices as well as worst practices—that are occurring in Europe, particularly in Poland, about safeguarding and particularly transmitting intangible cultural heritage and bringing some of that knowledge back to Canada where the 2003 Convention has not been signed. So my role is to offer opportunities and present perspectives of how you can go about safeguarding ICH, or what we call living heritage or patrimony. So my question is actually a little bit different. It’s not really about the UNESCO chairs, but thinking about what you mentioned about participatory governance, marginalized or minority communities, as well as human rights. I guess the thing that came to me is what do we do about global governance of intangible cultural heritage when marginalized groups and their customary rights or sui generis rights challenge the sovereignty of a nation or the sovereignty of the ruling class, and then we’re dealing with elements such as the deconstructing of a nation or perhaps delegitimizing nationhood or the governance system of a nationhood.

Andrzej Jakubowski:

This is a really important question because it is central to many discussions. The notion of 'cultural sovereignty’ is often seen as integral to the broader concept of state sovereignty. This issue is at the forefront of many international conventions on cultural heritage. The key question now is what are the competencies of states? What are the rights and obligations of states parties to international cultural instruments? This is evident in cases like the Intangible Heritage Convention and the Cultural Diversity Convention. There is significant debate around these issues, as seen in the relevant documents. Your question is particularly relevant, and it is also influenced by perspectives from different countries, such as Canada, France, and the US, which all have their unique views on cultural diversity and sovereignty. In Europe, for example, two significant documents reflect this discourse: the Follow Convention and the Council of the European Union’s conclusions on participatory governance. These documents don’t provide clear answers to potential conflicts. The states should facilitate a dialogue to address any possible clashes. This is evident in today’s discussions, such as those surrounding the upcoming Olympic Games in Paris, where issues like the promotion of the French language are debated. It’s essential to maintain a space for dialogue where different visions and interests can coexist. Additionally, the text of the convention includes crucial provisions regarding the manifestations of intangible heritage that may conflict with human rights and human dignity, which are central to addressing your question.

Marc Jacobs:

The basic text for the 12 ethical principles, which Hanna co-authored during the meeting in Seville, is intricate yet fascinating. It articulates six principles that align with global standards like human rights and equality, while the other six emphasize respect for community perspectives, highlighting the inherent tensions. These principles empower communities on paper but also refer to broader global ideas. It’s noteworthy that when we negotiated these principles, the Intergovernmental Committee decided to adopt all 12 and develop a negotiation space, although UNESCO has yet to implement this effectively, which is regrettable as it avoids opening a potentially contentious debate.

Alicja Jagielska-Burduk:

We are delighted to have Ambassador Mariusz Lewicki here, the Polish permanent delegate at UNESCO, who is now informed and can continue with this challenging work. While I don’t want to overwhelm you with details, the expectations from many UNESCO chairs are significant. Are there any questions? We still have a few minutes left.

Monica Stobiecka:

I found the discussions on authenticity in intangible heritage governance particularly engaging, as highlighted by Professors Marc Jacobs and Maja Kominko. There’s an evolving critique against the Eurocentric interpretation of core UNESCO concepts like authenticity, especially by archaeologists working in regions like Central Asia where traditional practices continuously rebuild ancient structures. I’m curious if there are other core concepts that might be reevaluated in the future, perhaps influenced by developments in AI or other contemporary challenges.

Marc Jacobs:

I avoid using the term 'authenticity’ entirely, to the extent that I don’t allow my students to use it either. Instead, I challenge them to articulate their thoughts without relying on this term. This approach aligns with the UNESCO convention, which has introduced several taboo words. It’s a stimulating challenge to rethink how we discuss these concepts, possibly incorporating AI to prompt deeper exploration and explanation of these ideas.

Maja Kominko:

So I think this is a very good question, and we already had a bit of a discussion on Tuesday when we were talking about Palmyra. This city is typically viewed as a Greek-Roman site, yet for most of its history, it was actually an Arab village, city, and caravan stop. The Temple of Bel served as a mosque for most of its existence, yet these facts are often overlooked and are not even mentioned on the UNESCO website. However, the issue extends beyond authenticity. Our approach to heritage is very Eurocentric, which can be damaging when applying our values to heritage in Africa and Asia. We need to listen more and truly understand what people need from us. Of course, this doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything. For instance, the widespread use of cement—something I, as any conservator, am fond of due to its ease and cost-effectiveness—is a topic we can advise on technically. But when it comes to the values embedded in heritage, such as authenticity and aesthetic values, it’s challenging because nearly every UNESCO heritage site is monumental. What heritage in Africa is monumental? This brings us to consider heritage often outside the European context. Consider the Ship of Theseus, a vessel that returns with every part replaced— is it still the same ship? This analogy is useful for understanding heritage because, unlike tangible heritage, we should not expect intangible heritage to remain unchanged. We do not wear 17th-century clothes today, yet we often expect people in Asia or Africa to adhere to what we deem as 'authentic,’ which isn’t fair.

Alicja Jagielska-Burduk:

Thank you very much. As we are running out of time, or rather we are already out of time, I would like to announce a 15-minute break. Hanna is an excellent time manager, so I must follow the rules. Thank you once again. It has been a pleasure. Thank you to all our panelists.


See also