Addressing questions of Intangible Cultural Heritage and resilience in times of emergency

As the world is hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, the 14th annual meeting of the South-East European (SEE) Experts Network on Intangible Cultural Heritage was convened online on 26 June. Focus was set on intangible cultural heritage in emergencies; which included the COVID-19 pandemic impact and response across the region as well as the crisis situation compounded by other disasters in close time proximity, such as the earthquakes that hit Albania in 2019 and Croatia in 2020.
The South-East European Experts Network on Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) was established in 2007 by UNESCO, through its Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe, with the aim to support the implementation of the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in the region.

The annual network meetings contribute to enhancing a common understanding of opportunities and challenges linked to the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage as a key asset of South-East European cultural diversity, promoting the sharing of knowledge and good practices on national measures to implement the Convention, and serving as a platform to develop regional and cross-border cooperation.

Organized online in pandemic times, the 14th annual meeting was an occasion to bring together, for the first time, experts representing ICH national authorities and the UNESCO-trained ICH facilitators from the concerned countries, enriching the exchange of ideas and strengthening cooperation between different actors across the region. The meeting was attended by 64 participants – including 25 country representatives and 11 facilitators, offering them a precious mutual learning opportunity and a platform to share experience, and advice on the pandemic’s impacts on living heritage, as well as on responses developed to this crisis.

The discussion confirmed the dual role ICH plays in emergencies. On the one hand, intangible cultural heritage can be directly threatened by crises in different ways, but on the other hand, it can effectively help communities to prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies.

Prior to the meeting, a survey was conducted among participants with the intention of obtaining an overall view of the experiences and the impact of COVID-19 on intangible cultural heritage and its safeguarding in the region.

The preparatory survey and the exchange in the meeting highlighted the numerous creative initiatives and adaptations developed by governments, bearers and practitioners, as well as other actors in the civil society such as relevant NGOs, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The diversity of the responses – ranging from financial support to impact mitigation guidance, virtual transmission, the development of platforms and tools for situation monitoring, raising of awareness, and capacity building – unveiled at once negative impacts of the pandemic and positive experiences with regard to response and resilience.

In summary, the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 has brought disruptive but also creative transformations in our human relations, creating a ‘new together’, cherishing togetherness in new ways. It fostered the breakthrough from physical to virtual modalities around safeguarding intangible cultural heritage, allowing for more extended and inclusive modalities of participation and exchange.

The meeting was organised by UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe, in cooperation with the Living Heritage Entity and with the support of the Regional Centre for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage in South-East Europe (Category 2 Centre operating under the auspices of UNESCO) based in Sofia, Bulgaria. The meeting was made possible by the annual contribution of Italy to the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe.


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