The 1st International Conference of NGOs Accredited by UNESCO for to Provide Advisory Services on ICH

The 1st International Conference of NGOs Accredited by UNESCO for to Provide Advisory Services on ICH

The representative of National Youth Non-Governmental Organization "Student Ethnographic Association" took part in the 1st International Conference of NGOs accredited by UNESCO for to provide advisory services on Intangible Cultural Heritage in Santa Susanna (Maresme, Catalonia, June 6–12, 2015). The Conference reinforced dialogue with the UNESCO bodies. Accredited NGOs have established links and shared experiences.

When a convention is created (the Safeguarding for ICH in this case, from the 17th of October 2003), states that ratify it, do accept their obligations and obtain participation in the General Assembly. In the case of the Convention for the Safeguarding of ICH, it involves 161 States that delegate the practical tasks of implementation of the Convention to the Intergovernmental Committee, which meets annually. UNESCO’s accreditation of some NGOs working in the field of cultural heritage allows them to advise their bodies (the General Assembly and the Intergovernmental Committee). This is the frame in which the Conference in Santa Susanna is developed. These NGOs accredited by UNESCO have a representative and coordinating body: the International Forum of NGOs based in Paris.

From 6 to 12 of June, the 1st International Conference of NGOs accredited by UNESCO has enabled these organizations to share experiences. The working session have defined the mission of the International Forum of NGOs and its relations with UNESCO. They have agreed in the creation of a Directive Committee that coordinates the Forum’s activities. All the representatives of these NGOs have positively valued the following of these steps, keeping in mind that the meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee in Namibia will be held from November 30th to December 4th, 2015.

Organized by the ENS de l'Associacionisme Cultural Català and with the support and co-operation of the International Forum of ICH NGOs, this meeting has also received the knowledge and experiences of NGOs and experts that, despite not being accredited by UNESCO, do develop their work in the field of Intangible Cultural Heritage. During the first working session, the entities have been divided in two groups: accredited NGOs on one side and non-accredited NGOs and experts on the other side, but many debates and plenary discussions have taken place within the Conference, where the participants have expressed common concerns: the relationship of NGOs with UNESCO and the States these organizations belong to; the change of attitude that the consideration of cultural expressions as intangible cultural heritage involves, etc. It is remarkable the great amount of Catalan entities and associations (sardanistes, castellers, puntaires, musical societies, amateur theater, giants) who participated in these meetings.

The 1st International Conference of accredited NGOs has been an opportunity to redefine the relations with UNESCO and has allowed to bring closer different expressions of catalan popular culture to the participants, as the debates and working sessions have been combined with cultural visits to to La Patum in Berga (registered in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity), the performance of an Aplec de Sardana, a rehearsal of Castellers de Barcelona (also registered on the same list), concerts, visits of various puntaires (lace makers), or the performance of Falcons, among others.

Mr. Pep Cruanyes, in representation of l'Associació d'Establiments Emblemàtics Històrics de Barcelona (Association of Emblematic Historical Properties/Establishments in Barcelona), has mentioned in his speech the importance of the Convention as a very useful tool for his organization, whose objective is the safeguarding of the properties and small emblematic stores in Barcelona.“The Convention is a very useful tool for us due to its focus on the living elements, fundamental values in today’s society, rather than on the static ones (…). This is why our organization we demand the safeguarding not only of aesthetical aspects of the properties, but also of their social usages, the salesmen/women, the relationship established between those and the citizens, etc.” Cruanyes said.

Referring to UNESCO’s Convention, Cruanyes (also a member of the “Comissió de la Dignitat” / “The Commission for Dignity”) has demanded the heritage law in Catalonia from 1993 to be modified in order to implement the Convention.

 Survive in times of crisis

Mr.Pedro Rodríguez and María José Mira, from the Federació de Societats Musicals Valenciana (Federation of Musical Societies in Valencia) have also actively participated in the session. “The university research and the acknowledgement of the cultural intangible heritage are very important to educate and claim cultural events in times of crisis”, concluded Rodriguez. He has mentioned that, even within a crisis situation, the music organizations have increased their members: “People tend to hold to what feels safe and their willing to belong to a community increases. Musical societies are part of this bond among people”. Despite the fact that there is no specific recognition of this issue, “the bands contribute to the social environment with the creation of music schools, as it is established in point 2.2. in the Convention”, has highlighted Maria José.

Regarding this statement, Garcia Petit has mentioned that “many associations have been working on the Convention’s issues, although they did not know about its existence”.

Accredited NGOs have spread among attendees the functions and role of the International Forum of NGOs. While its function is to represent and coordinate the various accredited NGOs, such as the ENS de l'Associacionisme Cultural Català or UNESCO Etxea (Centre UNESCO in the Basque Country), the conclusions have made clear that the Forum’s aim is to satisfy the needs of NGOs in general, whether they are accredited or not. It also has the capacity to facilitate the contact between experts and the community of organizations (NGOs in the international terminology) for intangible cultural heritage.

Among the conclusions it’s been decided that the Forum will have a Steering Committee and will demand the coordination of the Forum with the evaluation board, the body that evaluates the candidatures for being included in the different lists, formed by six experts from States that have signed the Convention, and six accredited NGOs.

 Contact and networking opportunities between accredited and non-accredited NGOs

In summary, it has been highlighted the interest of non accredited NGOs in being involved in the Convention, either by proposing meetings between NGOs accredited after the annual meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee (the Body applying the Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage), or by creating a network among NGOs that allows them to keep track of theConvention.

Finally, the members of NGOs accredited by UNESCO and those experts from other organizations have been divided into mixed working groups in order to share ideas and proposals (these were later presented to allattendees). This “exercise” has highlighted the intention of accredited and non-accredited NGOs to get closer and work together. This desire of complicity had already been reflected in the conclusions each group had separately developed, and has now been reflected in various proposals for creating networking platforms.

Thus, the working groups have positively evaluated these meetings the Conference is facilitating, because, despite the name of “1st International Conference of NGOs accredited by UNESCO for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage” might seem a little restrictive, the reality shows this conference is an open door for other NGOs and experts working in the same field to get closer. In fact, it has reaffirmed the willingness of many NGOs to benefit from the Convention.

The fourth day of the conference has been closed with the presentation by Roger Costa, technical member of the Department of Culture of the Generalitat, of the issue number 40 of the “Journal of Ethnology” and a representation of the Association of Catalan Puntaires, who have performed their activity for the attendees and have exhibited their best pieces at the entrance of the hotel Mercury in Santa Susanna, the headquarters of the meeting.

 The third day of debates in the 1st International Conference of accredited NGOs have established that during these meetings many “isolations”, wanted or unwanted, have been broken.

 Conceptual isolation

The first session of the day hosted a discussion about the conceptual confinements between heritage, folklore and popular culture. William Soler, representative of the Castellers (human towers) Association has based his statements on his experience as a graduate in ethnology: "During my learning years, there was always a lack of interest in popular culture, relegated to the realm of folklorists."

Roger Costa, from the Department of Culture of the Generalitat, has expressed skepticism about the process of folklorisation of popular culture, which is in danger of excluding many expressions in favor of the "conservative view of popular culture."

In a conciliatory tone, Carley Williams from the University of Aberdeen, has proposed the establishment of folklore through the definition of Intangible Cultural Heritage proposed by UNESCO.

Overcoming conceptual barriers, Rafael Osorio (National Autonomous University of Mexico –UNAM), has suggested the possibility of reinforcing institutional cooperation: "We have the challenge of introducing intangible heritage not only in universities but also in the processes for safeguarding developed by public institutions or private bodies".

 Cooperation with institutions

About his “bridge” between institutions, Francesc Fabregat, director of the service of Festivities and Cultural Participation of the Barcelona Institute for Culture, has highlighted the intention of his department to become a platform for promotion and coordination with the citizens of Barcelona.

Focusing on the economic aspects, Lluis Puig, Director General of Popular Culture, argued that organizations must have a certain economic autonomy, which grants their freedom of movement.

Magdalena Tovornik, President of CIOFF Slovenia (Conseil International des Organisations de Festivals de Folklore et arts Traditionell), based on her previous experience as mayor of Maribor, the second largest city in Slovenia, talked about the importance of intangible cultural, as it brings thousands of tourists to visit the cities. “Why couldn’t we ask for a greater return of taxes from tourism to cultural organizations?”, she asked.

 Cooperation in high levels

In the conclusions session, Josep Parés, president of the Catalan Federation of Music Societies, talked about the position of the States in relation to UNESCO, where the interests of these States might act as a filter.. "According to the models presented in these meetings, a good example to follow is the Flemish Region, as Belgium gives them autonomy." This issue has often been approached during these days. On Monday, Lluis Garcia Petit explained the lack of co-operation of the French government representatives in the General Assembly in order to include the Cantu in paghjella of Corsica on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding, since its inclusion in the list was the demonstration of the failure of the French cultural model on an island that is directly dependent of their administration. In this sense, Tavornik has defended the role of NGOs accredited towards UNESCO, as they can be helpful in this kind of situations: "It is necessary to strengthen the contact of NGOs accredited and UNESCO. Meetings like this Santa Susanna are in the right direction and should have annual or biannual continuity."

Guillem Soler, representing the Castellers (human towers) Association, also talked about the need to reinforce this relationship, as they somehow “felt kind of isolated” before the organs of this organization of States, despite being recognized by UNESCO as part of ICH. The participation in the conference of different organizations or NGOs non accredited by UNESCO but working in the field of intangible cultural heritage, has drawn positive attention to Arantzazu Acha, from the UNESCO Centre of the Basque Country. "This meeting has allowed us to feel that we are not alone, as isolation is a very damaging feeling for manyassociations", explained Josep Rafecas, president of the Federation of Amateur Theatre Groups of Catalonia.

 From a vantage point it is possible to observe the scene and calmly reflect, but the experience is not complete without going down into the landscape, to the stage. Once the discussion and reflection sessions in Santa Susanna had finished, the participants of the 1st International Conference of NGOs accredited by the UNESCO have made several visits in the last two days of their stay in Catalonia. 

They have visited Arbúcies (Montseny) to know the Methodology for Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH), Montseny experience in Biosphere Reserves. An inventory that includes legends, festivals, gatherings, as well as traditional work applied to nature, such as the pig slaughter, apiculture (bee breeding to extract honey and wax), procedures for making coal ... To see this inventory, the representatives of NGOs accredited by UNESCO visited the Montseny Ethnological Museum, which developed an inventory that was the starting point for the Intangible Cultural Heritage Inventory. Note that this methodology for the Inventory of ICH: the experience of the Montseny Biosphere Reserves is part of the Good Practices List of the UNESCO. A list, with 12 elements inscribed, that does not enjoy the popularity of the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, but it is worth making it visible. "From there, once the inventory has been made, we must take action for sustainable development of the Montseny territory for safeguarding the listed traditions and works," adds Luis Garcia Petit, one of the coordinators of the Methodology.

In the afternoon, participants visited the Palau de la Música of Catalonia declared a site of World Heritage by UNESCO (the Convention on the Protection of the World declaring goods of interest, whereas Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, declares elements of interest). Finally, we moved all of Clot neighborhood of Barcelona to see a rehearsal of the Castellers of Barcelona. The Castells, the Human Towers are part of the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The representatives of international NGOs have shown interest wondering how the groups’ members organize themselves, if they follow a special diet or, among others, the relationship between music and human towers.

 All NGO representatives positively valued this week's work that has also allowed them to get closer to Catalan culture.


Prepared for the the publication in Belarus by Alena Leshkevich

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