Author: Andrey YAHORAU,
Center for European Transformation, Belarus
CONTEXT AND TASKS
With all diversity of the Eastern Partnership countries, they still have a lot of common features that form a separate region. It has to do not only with their historical links of old time and the recent Soviet past, but also with similar contemporary problems of development. The questions of de-Sovietization, completion of building national institutions of independent states and rapprochement with the space of today’s European norms and regulation standards in a wide spectrum of areas are topical for all EaP countries. In its turn, the Eastern Partnership, being an initiative of the European Union, spurs the solution of these tasks inasmuch as the countries themselves are ready to accept such help and to share the general European values and purposes. For the years of the existence of the EaP initiative, its multilateral dimension has been connecting the six partner countries together within the framework of many joint initiatives and promoting the incipience and strengthening of the understanding of the Eastern Partnership as a conjunct region. Substantially, this process has also been influenced by the geopolitical frictions and challenges caused by Eurasian integration and Russia’s neo-imperial ambitions, which results in coordinated opposition to this external pressure.
The work with cultural heritage in the EaP countries creates wide opportunities in the work with the solution of the questions mentioned above. In the regional dimension, in the cultural heritage sphere, we see several common tasks. First, cultural heritage and the activity connected with it can be a significant source of sustainable social and economic development. Second, cultural heritage is one of significant factors of the national construction and formation of national identity. Third, cultural heritage can become a factor of strengthening the coherence of the region and a factor of work with regional identity. A considerable potential of the Eastern Partnership’s development is in the development of horizontal connections between the partner countries in the fields of economy, politics, safety, and contacts between people. Culture is able to create a basis for such cooperation as it is the richest source of receiving mutual knowledge of each other. Today, the information vacuum in this knowledge is being filled with Russian sources of information, which leads to the inadequate understanding of societies of the EaP countries. Cultural heritage is the area where mutual information exchanges and cooperation can result in a deeper understanding between our peoples.
GENERAL QUESTIONS AND PROBLEMS
In the field of work with cultural heritage, the EaP countries face a number of general questions and problems.
The national policy in the cultural heritage field
In all the analyzed EaP countries (Armenia, Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine), the national policy in the field of cultural heritage borrows many features, forms, and regulation approaches, which are incident to the Soviet period. First of all, it is expressed in the state’s domination in the formulation and implementation of the national policy in the field of cultural heritage. Other stakeholders’ inclusion is fragmentary, inconsistent, and is often accompanied by mutual distrust between different subjects. The centralized policy in the field of culture is often burdened with ideological approaches that can create dividing lines and conflicts between various groups of society (the cases of Belarus and Armenia).
As a whole, the legislations in the cultural heritage field of all the countries is generated and evaluated positively. At the same time, at the level of implementing these laws, there is a whole set of various problems. There is a quite good level of technical preparation of laws, but in some cases they remain “dead” documents without any practical application. Law enforcement practice faces the absence of necessary personnel, lack of financial resources (especially at the level of local authorities and cultural establishments), gaps or restrictions in the use of foreign financing and sponsors’ support, and the weak level of management at local levels. Practically in all the countries, governmental programs have a formalistic approach to the preservation and development of cultural heritage, do not consider any possibilities of cooperation with local communities and non-state organizations, pay not enough attention to the returning of cultural heritage to the actual use, and do not consider its social component. Additionally, it is possible to mention the absence of any favorable investment climate and support to private initiatives, including tax privileges for sponsors and philanthropists. The state policy is poorly connected with requirements of inhabitants at local levels; heritage is not included in the practice of plans and strategies of local development.
Social perception of cultural heritage
Both in civil society and in approaches of the basic operating actors (the state, experts, civil society organizations, and local communities), the “narrow sight” of cultural heritage is dominating. The latter is perceived as a set of material and non-material values that have to be protected. Heritage is not considered as a potential source of social and economic development; its potential of actual use is underestimated. The socio-cultural component of heritage, the way it is reflected in public consciousness, is practically not paid attention to. The aspect of involving local communities in the work with heritage does not receive proper attention, and therefore – objects of cultural heritage remain excluded from processes of contemporary sustainable utilitarian use. The practice of working with cultural heritage is, in many respects, conservative and poorly involves contemporary innovative approaches in the work with heritage.
Cultural heritage in the EaP countries frequently remains a conflict area; there are constant wrangles of various public groups. In particular, the recent heritage of the Soviet period needs to be reconsidered and reinterpreted. It leads to the necessity of developing mechanisms of public dialogue, mediation, and resolution of conflicts in the field of heritage.
Besides the widespread problems with the insufficient financing of the work with heritage at the national and especially local levels, in all the countries there are problems with qualified personnel in the cultural heritage sphere. It is necessary to support the development of personnel potential with the help of special programs (for example – Twinning) and formal and informal education.
The question of the lack of financial resources can be solved by creating more acceptable conditions for state-private partnership, private investments, and business in the sphere of the work with heritage. Contributions of civil society organizations and the local population are not less important as they can involve the considerable resources of volunteering, crowdfunding and crowdsourcing.
Civil society and local communities
Civil society in the cultural heritage sector is a subject with huge potential, and the policy formation “from below”, from the local population level, provides its bigger stability. At the same time, there are many problems with the participation of civil society and local communities in decision-making and with the actual level of civil society organizations’ competences in management of projects in the sphere of culture. Even in the presence of possibilities of participation in acceptance of state decisions, possibilities of submitting offers and recommendations from the public (for example, in Moldova), such proposals from civil society may not correspond to the required quality level. Projects like CHOICE, as well as other international programs focused on local communities, have shown that local communities can be extremely inert and opened enough to participate and to be involved. This ambivalence demonstrates once again that questions of the importance of participating in the decision-making process or the pro-active launch of new initiatives are not perceived by the population as priority.
It is also possible to mention the problems of mistrust of public organizations to state bodies, the absence of consistency and coordination of actions in the cultural heritage preservation sphere between public actors; restrictive practices of the state concerning the conditions of developing and participating of civil society in decision-making.
General approaches to the solution of problems
During the implementation of the CHOICE project, it was possible to work out several common principles that can help to solve some problems mentioned above. We believe that network projects like CHOICE, governmental programs, and EU programs in the field of culture and cultural heritage can win if they are based on:
- innovations and contemporaneity in the implementation of projects and programs in the field of cultural heritage;
- attention to the social component in the work with heritage (including the participation of civil society and local communities in decision-making and the work with heritage);
- localization and maximum approximation of the work with cultural heritage to local strategies of development and requirements of local communities;
- use of the potential of regional cooperation between the EaP countries.
The scheme of four components: “action” – “infrastructure” – “reflection” – “presentation” can become the implementation principles of the project activity in the field of cultural heritage (See “About Heritage: the contents of the notion and the meaning of our work with it”).
In order to change the policy in the field of cultural heritage in the EaP countries, we can present several concrete recommendations for different groups of subjects:
For state bodies of the EaP countries:
- In the national policy and national programs in the cultural heritage sphere, it is necessary to have a wider understanding of cultural heritage, including the advancement and development of the economic potential of cultural heritage, as well as its value as a factor of developing local territories and communities.
- The national policy and law enforcement practice should try to expand civil society’s participation in decision-making in the field of cultural heritage at all levels.
- It is necessary to promote and widen the participation of local communities and local population in the work aimed at revitalizing and preserving cultural heritage.
- In order to involve more the potential of private business and investments in the cultural heritage sphere, it is necessary to use more widely mechanisms of state-private partnership, sponsorship; to create preferential terms for business in the heritage sphere.
- The national policy in the field of heritage will become more efficient if to develop and support cross-sector dialogue and cooperation (national authorities – local authorities – NGOs, NGOs – local authorities – private business, etc.).
- It is necessary to include the understanding of culture and cultural resources as a strategically important area for sustainable development and inclusive economic growth in strategic documents of national governments.
- It is possible to stimulate more vigorous activity in the field of heritage by creating national financial mechanisms (foundations, awards, etc.) in the field of cultural heritage.
- It is necessary to expand powers of local authorities, their personnel and financial possibilities in the work with heritage.
- In the countries, there is not enough or even practically no vocational training in the field of heritage; those who receive education adjacent to the heritage sector do not stay in this sector because of low salaries and the absence of prospects of professional growth; therefore, it is necessary to develop components of corresponding education in formal and informal sectors.
For civil society of the EaP countries and the EU:
- It is necessary to enlarge programs aimed at developing the management potential of civil society organizations.
- It is important to raise awareness of civil society at all its levels about problems of preserving material and non-material heritage. Such campaigns are especially needed in the work with local authorities and local communities.
- Advancement of education in the field of cultural heritage and cultural landscapes.
- Distribution of best practices received during the implementation of projects of the CHOICE program, in particular – the experience of involving younger generations.
- To increase the awareness of local communities about the importance of their participation in decision-making processes by means of civil society’s projects aimed at revealing features of cultural heritage, which characterize vividly this territory and underline the local community’s responsibility for the protection and preservation of this heritage.
For the European Union and EU programs:
In the European Union, the year 2018 is declared a year of cultural heritage, and it is symbolically important to use it to involve more the EaP countries in the cooperation with the EU in this field.
- The year of cultural heritage can be the best time to widen the representation of joint European identity and culture in the EaP countries, mutual enrichment and deepening of the understanding of cultural heritage of Europe.
- It is important to reach bigger coherence and coordination of the EU policy in the field of culture and cultural heritage with the EU’s topical programs and priorities in the EaP region. In particular – the work with culture can become an important component of the EU information strategy, a means of struggling against propaganda, a factor of strengthening regional identity in the Eastern Partnership, a basis for stronger connections of the EaP countries among themselves and with the European Union.
- It is necessary to support the tools of regional cooperation and exchange of best practices in the field of heritage, to stimulate horizontal cooperation (networking) between the EaP countries at the level of civil society, educational institutions, cultural establishments, local authorities, and national governments.
- It is expedient to support the development of mechanisms of multilateral dialogue and cross-sector cooperation in the EaP countries with the participation of EU representatives, the EU’s target programs in the field of culture, European agencies and cultural establishments.
- It is important to dilate the tools of the “Creative Europe” program for the EaP region.
In the EU’s programs for the EaP region, including the programs of trans-border and territorial cooperation, it is necessary to use wider treatment of the notion “cultural heritage”. In actual programs, cultural heritage is sometimes linked only to its separate components (e.g. traditional crafts), which limits the potential of its use and the space for project activity in this branch.