“Cultural Heritage - Living Reality” is a reflection on a hot topic in the present time. The dangerous European fragmentation, which we are witnessing, results from the lack of understanding of memory, political history and society. Fear of the other and the different, the economic illusion, selfishness, the prevalence of the short term, inattention to the potential of society and citizenship are rooted in the devaluation of heritage and memory. We cannot forget the paradox induced by the temptation to face cultural identities as self-sufficient and closed realities, in contrast to the “emptiness of values” and relativism.
The nationalisms now emerging in central Europe are due to problems of recognition and legitimacy, under the influence of political instability and fragmentation - hence the need to find common denominators that recognize differences and complementarities. Instead of closing and fearing the other and the different, it is important that the local, the national and the supranational articulate without excluding themselves - allowing, through subsidiarity, that identities favor the convergence to a memory enriched by what is proper and by that is common.
We do not speak of things from the past, irretrievably lost in a hidden corner of our memory. We refer to living memory, whether it refers to monuments, sites and traditions, or whether it consists of collections of museums, libraries and archives. But fundamentally we are dealing with knowledge or expressions of human creativity ... Having memory is, therefore, respecting ourselves. Taking care of what we receive is giving attention, it is not leaving it to abandon. For this reason, the cultural heritage that we must protect is a sign that what has value today and is not always left to waste. How can we preserve what is new if we do not take care of what is usual?
The Council of Europe Framework Convention on the Value of Cultural Heritage in contemporary society, signed in Faro on October 27, 2005 and entered into force on June 1, 2011, which we coordinated, had the fundamental concern of thinking about the notion of heritage common cultural and to build a concept of shared responsibility - involving the built and material heritage, the intangible heritage, nature, landscape, digital world and contemporary creation. Public policies on culture must, therefore, begin with the care of heritage and memory. In fact, cultural heritage refers to the permanence of common values, the safeguarding of differences and the respect for what is proper, what refers to others and what constitutes a common heritage.
In 2018, when the European Union devoted one year to Cultural Heritage, this decision constituted an emblematic landmark for a European project of peace, hospitality, mutual aid, sustainable development and the defense of cultural diversity. Free and responsible citizenship is at stake; shared sovereignty; the union of free and sovereign states; supranational democracy; subsidiarity; and development oriented towards human dignity. This is why this European Year can and must be a challenge for universities, schools, researchers, institutions, civil society and all European citizens so that cultural heritage is considered as a mobilizing factor in defense what is proper and what is common.
The memory of the wars and especially the Second World War or the destruction of Palmira forces us to think that a European culture of peace can only be lasting if the economic and monetary dimension we know how to combine cultural and political expression, with which we can weave cohesion, distributive justice, intergenerational equity and the primacy of learning. Far from the good intentions that fill hell, we need care and attention for what we are, where we come from and where we are going.
Culture assumes a decisive importance, since sustainability cannot be reduced to the mere management of material resources, nor to environmental themes. It is important to consider the value of memory, learning and creative capacity. When talking about Culture, we are still linking fidelity to memory, respect for the inheritance received from past generations to Education and Science. The European debate is going through a particularly difficult and uncertain time. How to link politics and the economy, ensuring an active role for the European Union in the balance and regulation of the international scene? How to guarantee sustainable development, based on knowledge, learning, innovation, cohesion and quality of life?
It was not just a gesture of good intentions - but the demonstration of the importance of historical and cultural roots was at stake; the need to protect and safeguard the common heritage; the transversal and strategic importance of public policies linked to Education, Training and Science, as well as the understanding that only the protection of cultural heritage, in the context of an open and plural identity, and its connection to the quality of contemporary creation can correspond to an integrated vision of development, capable of preserving a culture of peace.
We know that it is not true that Jean Monnet ever said that if European construction had to be restarted he would have chosen culture. In fact, a logic of functional solidarity requires cultural diversity - which, in Jacques Delors' formula, must be associated with the causes of peace and security and sustainable development. The founding fathers of modern Europe considered culture as a common denominator of values, as a source of freedom, equality and solidarity and as a precondition for mutual respect and human dignity.
Politics, economics and culture are thus articulated in the defense of the common good - that is, in the search for common vital interests that contribute to peace and development. Hence, sustainability must be considered through the care of history and equity between generations - preserving cultural heritage and protecting nature from irreversible depletion of resources ...
The challenges that cultural heritage faces and that have an impact on contemporary society involve everything from the transition to the digital age to the environmental and demographic issue, without forgetting to prevent and combat illicit trafficking in cultural goods. Fundamentally, we are concerned with knowledge, culture and humanity ... Having a memory means respecting ourselves, studying history and knowing the roots. Taking care of what we receive is giving attention, it is not leaving it to abandon, it is knowing, studying, investigating, protecting and conserving. But it is also about promoting cultural diversity, dialogue between cultures and social cohesion, highlighting the economic contribution of cultural heritage to the creative sectors and to development.
Internationally, the concept of Museum has been discussed. The debate continues, with a tension between the purely instrumental view of museums that assimilates them to institutions of a social or participatory nature and the other perspective, which seeks to preserve what distinguishes museums in their diversity and complexity, making them unique. What this is about is the need to avoid simplifications or anachronisms. Heritage as a living reality has to be seen in the light of the present time, understanding the relationship between memory and life. Historiography does not aim at a moral judgment of what happened in the past. It is important to know the time that preceded us, to use memory as a factor for understanding humanity, so that people's creative capacity is a factor of emancipation.
That is why it is important to understand that the critical sense must be present, not to find scapegoats for the errors of humanity, but to understand the imperfect character of mankind and its necessary perfectibility.
What must be at stake is the search for explanatory paths, lines of reflection, syntheses and paradoxes, in response to the persistent and contradictory enigma of a society that oscillates between messianism and will, between myth and rationality, between criticism and survival, between the present and the future. And in the field of cultural heritage, it is important to reflect on cultural assets that are illegitimately appropriated and on the consequences of past situations of domination of some peoples over others.
It is the present time that we speak and memory nowadays, as a projection of the past and responsibility - there must be special care in the fair regulation of the possession of illegitimately appropriate assets, in the development of a true concept of common heritage (as advocated by the Convention Council of Europe, following the main international instruments in this field) and in the effective defense and safeguarding of the heritage of humanity, in an authentic sharing of responsibilities and according to a “culture of peace”, which Federico Mayor has made UNESCO a fundamental a modern and civilized concept of cultural heritage.
In short, cultural heritage is not a closed or static concept, it is a living reality. To have memory is to respect ourselves, to study history critically and to know the roots. Taking care of what we receive is giving attention, it is not leaving it to abandon, it is knowing, studying, investigating, protecting and conserving. How will we understand a civilization without the study and dialogue between tradition and progress, without understanding its cultural and religious roots? Only the care of cultural heritage allows us to assume civilized citizenship.
Guilherme d'Oliveira Martins signs this text as the author of the essay “Cultural heritage - Reality alive”, published by the Francisco Manuel dos Santos Foundation.