The CHOICE – Cultural Heritage: Opportunity for Improving Civic Engagement project has been developed and later implemented in the four Eastern Partnership countries: Armenia, Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine. A partner consortium was made up of the following entities:
- Association of Local Democracy Agencies, ALDA (France);
- International Non-Government Organisation EuroBelarus (Vilnius, Lithuania);
- Centre for Cultural Management (Lviv, Ukraine);
- National ICOM Committee (Chisinau, Moldova);
- Educational Research Foundation Millennium (Yerevan, Armenia); and
- Public Association Centre for Social Innovations (Minsk, Belarus).
The project obtained funding within the framework of the European Union programme Eastern Partnership Civil Society Facility and was implemented in course of two years: between 2015 and 2017.
The project was mainly aimed at building the capacities and development of the non-government non-profit organisations and initiatives which are engaged in conservation, re-thinking and promotion of the cultural and historical heritage, in order they would gradually took more and more part in policy dialogue on issues of heritage in their local communities, countries, as well as in the East European region.
Beside the civil society organisations, professional teams and communities, intellectuals and cultural activists from the four nations who focus on cultural landscape and its diversity rehabilitation and preservation, as well as correct and efficient use of the cultural patrimony resources for the development of cities, towns or other human settlements were involved in the project.
However, beyond that, the CHOICE project emphasized the cultural legacy value for strengthening and development of modern identity and the European civilisational choice made by its member countries. Therefore, the project participants addressed the contemporary challenges faced by all of us today, as well as the issues related to cultural heritage conservation and use. These are the challenges which deal with interpretation, re-thinking and introduction of the past cultural achievements in the modern socio-cultural context.
The programme has become for the local organisations and communities interested in the cultural heritage work a much-anticipated opportunity to exchange information on sore subjects with their colleagues in other countries, as well as to release their visions, concerns and suggestions to the public domain. The civil society organisations were also provided with an opportunity to collaborate with cultural heritage experts, so as to continue their engagement in the sphere in a more successful way.
The CHOICE project has helped its participants to meet and know each other and to become aware of the need and opportunities for cooperation and maintenance of close communications inside the entire Eastern Partnership region. Quite often the identical or similar tasks or issues proved to be momentous for the member countries and, among them, preservation of unique craft traditions and creative practices; upgrading the memory culture; attitude to the Soviet legacy, as well as cultural heritage work in the conflict areas; combination of traditions and innovations in our lives; collection, digitalisation and provision of information on cultural patrimony facilities; formation of the local development strategies based on a strong cultural identity; improving quality of life by means of culture; and several others.
We had a pleasure to cooperate with a number of profile experts. Many of them were envolved as participants working on their particular projects. Hence, the theoretical framework that we offer to your attention here has been developed by our leading experts Uladzimir Matskevich and Ihar Rakhanski specifically for our project.
Uladzimir Matskevich (Minsk, Belarus) – a methodolgist, philosopher, analyst and public figure, famous for his strong and argumented visions on the Post-Soviet mentality and ways to overcome its issues on the way to European values.
Ihar Rakhanski (Minsk, Belarus) – an architector and restorer with decades of experience, Head of the Belarusian Committee of ICOMOS, businessman and conceptualist.
In order to navigate these rather sophisticated topics, our experts have proposed to the CHOICE project participants the following activity structure:
Action means a creative project which targets achievement of a specific practical outcome or product by way of a concise activity set.
Through an open competition, the CHOICE project selected and supported developers and authors of innovative for our region projects aimed at conservation and currently central interpretation of the national cultural heritage.
The four countries’ non-government organisations and professional communities have implemented in total 32 projects. Their themes and formats were widely diverse and ranged from archaeological summer camps to multi-media catalogues or vocational schools and dealt with both tangible and intangible heritage, ancient and recent Soviet past, design or theatrical achievements, singing or cooking traditions, artistic school or ethnic community patrimony, oral history, museums and cultural landscapes.
All these projects are presented in this publication.
Infrastructure means here the activity which contributes to a sustainable continuance of the new socio-cultural content created by the project.
A substantial part of the activities was dedicated to capacity building of the initiatives or professional organisations involved in the CHOICE. The project members had an opportunity to get an experience of assessing the institutional capacity and forming a strategy for their further development under adviser supervision. They improved their knowledge and skills in the area of project management, financial management, public relations, advocacy and conflict management.
The project provided for its participants’ professional development. For two years some debate or educational workshops, conferences and public discussions were organised in Armenia, Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine for re-thinking cultural heritage and its role for identity development and preservation, as well as for dissemination of and discussions over the best practices and lessons available in our countries.
Over the long term, we would like to achieve influence on the cultural politics pursued in our countries and to assist the project members in reaching the level when a civil society organisation or initiative could position itself in this sphere as a source of constructive proposals and sometimes as an advisor for the local authorities or the central government.
Four analytical cultural policy documents (policy papers) were drafted and proposed for public discussions in Armenia, Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine. While summarising these documents, the CHOICE project has elaborated a recommendation set for all those who, as a politician, donor or investor, display interest in the Eastern Partnership region, above all from the European Union nations.
Reflection is yet another component which is paramount for us and includes organisation of places fit for re-thinking the practices applied.
These were not just meetings of project organisers and experts among themselves to track the effects made by the project or its outcomes for the stakeholders interested in addressing the heritage issues. Jointly with their participants, we discussed at the conferences, workshops, seminars or club meetings the essence and contents of the notion of cultural heritage and culture as a whole, as well as features in common shared by every nation involved and their peculiarities. And, most importantly, we trespassed beyond the framework of a narrow topic and put our work related to heritage preservation and use within the context of momentous socio-political challenges present in our region and in the world at large.
Presentation means in the diagram a broad public offer and propagation of a new cultural and political content generated by the creative project (Action).
Project outcome presentation to the public took various formats. These were showcases, exhibitions, updated museum exhibitions and touristic routes, public discussions, crowd-funding campaigns, theatre performances and book or online product preparation.
The CHOICE project has facilitated various publications within the framework of creative schemes: articles, films and books on currently relevant practices of handling the cultural heritage.
One of such products is represented by this extensive publication in the website format, as well as in the printed material format.
Both the full version of our book and the web-site contain conceptualisation and generalisation of the project outcomes, which, as we hope, will benefit expert practicians in the sphere of historical and cultural heritage conservation and promotion; politicians, civil servants and cultural analysts who are interested in nascent trends, processes and decision-making methods in the area; and external partners and donors who take a serious stance to planning new and assessing past socio-cultural changes.
All the materials here, on the web-site, can be grouped in two semantic parts. The first, conditionally theoretical one contains the conceptual developments by our experts and participants of the program – this is the result of the joint intellectual work collected at group meetings and individually. In the second part, we offer the stories of project implementation from each team: the main content of their work, and true admission of the difficulties, conflicts and… ways to overcome them on the way to their goals.
Project Coordinator of the
International Non-Government Organisation “EuroBelarus”