In this Idea Exchange, Irina Bokova, UNESCO director general, speaks about conservation in times of globalisation, of freedom of speech and expression and UNESCO’s adjustment in the new world order. This session was moderated by Amulya Gopalakrishnan of The Indian Express
Amulya Gopalakrishnan: What does it tangibly mean when a site from a particular nation has been chosen to be on the UNESCO world heritage list? How does it help?
The most important part is the inscription of the UNESCO world heritage site. Competition is growing and I am often asked that since we will be reaching 1,000 sites soon, isn’t it time to stop inscribing? I always say no. That’s the wrong approach. What is more important from our point of view is preserving heritage and passing it down to future generations. It’s not the inscription which is the most important part, although it is the most visible part. How can we protect heritage, how can we inscribe it into development policies? Those are the most important questions. We see that heritage and culture are subjected to diverse pressures—the pressure of modernisation, of creating new infrastructure, of developmental policies, of urbanisation. There is practically not a single site which is not subjected to these pressures. I don’t think protecting heritage should be seen as an obstacle to any of this if there are correct policies to include this in local developmental plans. A balance can be found between this drive for modernity and protection of heritage. So, from our point of view, it is important to preserve the authenticity of the respective sites. For natural sites, we have our network of biosphere reserves, and we value the efforts of local government authorities to protect biodiversity. In many parts of the world, we see natural disasters, we are devastated when conflicts destroy monuments that have stood for many years. We find this absolutely unacceptable: whatever the conflict or social strife, monuments have to be preserved. Urbanisation and modernity also destroy these sites. Striking the right balance is a complicated issue. We really try to find the right balance.
Amulya Gopalakrishnan: What obligation does it place on the state?
There is a convention, there is an internationally binding legal instrument. There are operational guidelines, there are concrete provisions that legally bind state parties to the convention to protect and preserve monuments. You cannot destroy it, you cannot introduce changes that affect the authenticity