And most often, they are not led by organized armies and troops but by different paramilitary groups and also with civilians very often under fire, which are not prepared for that at all. So in these new wars, as they are called, culture stands on the front line. And we believe in that strongly, we see it every single day. We see that in Mali we do see that in Syria, we saw that in Libya, we saw that in Afghanistan with the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas and we saw that also in the former Yugoslavia during the wars when the old bridge of Mostar was destroyed in 1993.
It’s a time when societies, and I would say nowadays all societies are under pressure because of the different challenges, the globalization, the connectivity the evermore bigger exchange among communities. We do believe that cultures should be looked also as a wellspring for energy.
For, as we say, this is probably the ultimate renewable energy that a society has. And we also admit that every culture is unique and every culture is very well woven into the wider story of humanity. We know nowadays that extremists, they target particularly heritage, it’s a very deliberate act, they aren’t destroyed by chance it’s a very targeted, deliberate act of attack because they know they attack identity of communities.
As we say, legal texts can never be as fast as rockets and we say this constantly. This means we have to strengthen the capacity of states, we have to strengthen also the civil society to safeguard and protect culture. And also, we have to be much stronger in protecting illicit trafficking.
How can we be concerned over books or paintings when people are dying? How do you answer criticism like that or questions like that, which must crop up in your work?
You know, I know this argument, and I know that’s why I was mentioning, in such cases, people themselves from these same areas ask us to put culture there. I could, say, give the example of Haiti. I went to Haiti a month and a half after the terrible destruction and I saw really pain and human suffering, I saw a destruction that I had never seen in my life. And I went to Jacmel, and what the people asked us to do, and what the people also in Port Au Prince were asking to do, they were worried about the Citadel, they were worried about the Citadel because they know that there was so much linked with the Citadel, this is their life, this is their ancestors, this is their heritage, this is their future also. So it’s not something that we impose, I think this comes so naturally with the people who are in such difficult circumstances.
Is there a unifying definition, or is this more of a concept of what is important to people in a given place for their identity. How do you define, I mean the World Heritage definition is, again, different from what you use when you speak of cultural heritage for the purpose of protecting it.
Well, you’re right that culture may be construed as something very limited. I know that very many people were still saying oh you speak about culture but now we have financial difficulties, culture is about…it’s arts, it’s about elites, we cannot afford it nowadays. Our understanding is much broader because we do believe, you’re right, that in the different legal instruments we try to find and to make a very specific definition of what we consider as a object of particular convention. We have a very also elaborate explanation of what is intangible heritage, for example.
In the World Heritage, also, we have it. We have it in the illicit trafficking—what are the movable objects of culture. We have in the convention on the expression of cultural diversity. We have what is the concept of cultural industries, creative industries that are emerging. I would say that our understanding is much broader than the conventional thinking about culture.