Diachronic Diversity

Respect for Past Diversity 

Key Added Value of the European Heritage Label

In spite of wars, persecutions, acts of intolerance over the past centuries, up till the early 1900s cultural diversity, or, to use a modern expression: multiculturalism prevailed in the greater part of the world. Less so in western and northern Europe, but definitely in the Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, and Russian empires. 

Those who esteem diversity in today’s Europe, certainly feel nostalgic about the variety in people, languages, flavours, customs, in short: cultures in Lviv, Vilnius, Wroclaw, Oradea, Bratislava, Istanbul, Thessaloniki and other places decades ago – which diversity is exemplified by the varieties in their names, too. (E.g. Lviv, Lvov, Lemberg, Lwów, Leopolis…) Although most of that multiculturalism is gone, much of its spirit survives in cultural heritage. The second part of the official motto of the European Union (unity in diversity) implies respect for diversity also in the past, which should be duly reflected in its heritage policies. Policies, which besides caring for cultural heritage objects, integrating them to the identities of communities of today, should also pay tribute to groups of people that contributed to their creation, or to whom that heritage once meant the frame to their lives, even if none of their descendants lives there any longer. The point is about people who created and used those edifices and other legacy, and not about past political powers. Besides respecting contemporary diversity, its diachronic dimension deserves the same fair treatment.

Such warning is particularly in place today, when the prominent position of diversity in the European value system is under threat. The prevailing tendencies are in favour of self-isolation, protectionism, concern about identities, and the revival of nation state mentalities. 

* * *

Formally diversity is still being cherished and safeguarded as top principle in the European Union. It is rarely pointed out, however, that celebration of diversity and increasing protectionism are not contradictory concepts. On the contrary, even the often cited first sentence of Article 167 (ex Article 151) of the basic legal document[1] of the EU – “The Union shall contribute to the flowering of the cultures of the Member States, while respecting their national and regional diversity…” can be interpreted as the foundation of isolationism. The cultural diversity of the Union can be based on stable distinct identities, which need not even be similar. Diversity and difference are related ideas anyway. The sentence as it is does not imply interaction or convergence, a static mosaic of very diverse cultures fully satisfies it. Furthermore, cultural diversity is celebrated between countries and not necessarily inside of them. Perhaps if the text would read in the Member States, or even in Europe

Reading the second half of the sentence does not basically change the case: “…and at the same time bringing the common cultural heritage to the fore”. Finding and displaying common roots does not necessarily lead to interaction today, although it certainly adds to the feeling of cohesion and belonging.

Let us nevertheless suppose that in spite of the ambiguity of the wording, a dynamic concept of diversity is still valued in Europe.

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The subject of this paper, however, is not contemporary diversity but its historic dimension. To use the terms used mainly in linguistics: instead of synchronic, the diachronic diversity is our concern.

We shall first examine the place of diachronic diversity in international cultural heritage policies. Diversity in general, and diachronic diversity in particular, have gained increasing recognition in international heritage documents in the past few decades. The same progression can be observed about the prescriptions towards interpreting and presenting cultural heritage, which has received sufficient attention lately only. 

The most important relevant international documents are the Venice Charter from 1964, and the World Heritage Convention from 1972, both under the aegis of UNESCO.

The Venice Charter defines the main principles of heritage protection and restoration to this day. It has, however, very little to say about presentation, and nothing indeed about the social, historical and ethical aspects of cultural heritage[2].

The World Heritage Programme – established by the Convention of the same name – has had an extraordinary successful career. It is run very professionally. Criteria of selection, management and communication are carefully elaborated and also monitored. These, too, however, lack the explicit command of fair treatment of past stakeholders of the items on the World Heritage list[3].

ICCROM and ICOMOS also belonged to the early structures. The former stands for the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property, established in Rome in 1959. This intergovernmental body does not seem to have cared much about matters connected to fair treatment of diachronic diversity. On the other hand ICOMOS, the International Council on Monuments and Sites, the global international organisation of heritage professionals, established in 1965, has lately repeatedly tackled related issues.

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The collapse of the communist bloc, and especially the demise of its two federate states, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia brought along the revival of adverse phenomena known in the first half of the 20th century: wars, zealous search for identity, iconic or heritage cleansing, followed by the soaring need for reconciliation, all these soon made an impact on heritage policies. As early as 1994, in the Japanese city of Nara an ICOMOS document was adopted on authenticity in conservation of cultural heritage. “Cultural heritage diversity exists in time and space, and demands respect for other cultures” – the text is adamant, especially about the right conduct in situations of conflict[4].

* * *

The focus of attention shifted from the technical to the social aspects of cultural heritage. This led, after years of preparation, to the adoption of the Council of Europe Framework Convention on the Value of Cultural Heritage for Society, which took place in the Portuguese city of Faro in 2005. The Faro Convention entered into force this June, having been ratified by ten European states.

The sensitive nature of heritage is touched upon in Article 4: “everyone, alone or collectively, has the responsibility to respect the cultural heritage of others as much as their own heritage”.

Also in Article 7 by encouraging “reflection on the ethics and methods of presentation of the cultural heritage, as well as respect for diversity of interpretations”; and by calling for the establishment of „processes for conciliation to deal equitably with situations where contradictory values are placed on the same cultural heritage by different communities”.

One important new concept of the Faro Convention is that of the heritage community, which suggests special (symbolic) significance of cultural heritage for certain people. Article 12 stipulates that “the value attached by each heritage community to the cultural heritage with which it identifies” must be taken into consideration. This appeal can ironically also lead to isolationism: each community should have its own heritage to respect, and be respected by others.

Although this convention is European, it echoes the increasing attention paid to the Hispanic heritage in the USA, and to the spiritual values in the eyes of Australian aborigines and American Indians in the past decade. It is in those contexts that a variety of terms had entered the discourse on heritage policies: historical fairness, equity or generosity, fair treatment etc.

* * *

These ideas have collected momentum at an accelerating pace. Two years after the Faro Convention a European Manifesto for Multiple Cultural Affiliation was born in Strasbourg. Differently from the relatively short, concise text of the Faro Convention (little more than 3000 words), this Manifesto is more than three times that size, consists of a Foreword, articles 1-10, proposals for implementation via items i-vii, a Guide with another 63 numbered paragraphs, and eleven final Notes.

The Foreword sums up the objectives of the document as follows: “The Manifesto goes beyond the approach related to fixed cultural identities and the discussion of recognition for minorities. It sets out to show how the feeling, on the part of certain individuals or groups, of belonging to several cultural traditions at the same time can be reconciled with a European citizenship now in the making, based on mutual recognition of different cultures and an attachment to shared values. It highlights the mass of exchanges and the inter­mingling that has forged Europe’s culture.”

The focus of the Manifesto is both synchronic and diachronic. With regard to the latter it advocates a multiperspective approach to history which is the history not just of the victors but of plurality, one that is heterogeneous because it does not belong to any particular camp but is conceived from a whole range of perspectives”.

It is at treating heritage education where the Manifesto comes closest to the concept of diachronic diversity, see box:

Heritage education in the European Manifesto for Multiple Cultural Affiliation

Item vi. of the implementation proposals (p12):

(Provision should be made to) develop heritage education and interpreta­tion highlighting past exchanges and mutual influences which exemplify Europe’s multi­cultural reality and its relations with other regions of the world;  

Paragraph 23. of the Guide to the Manifesto (p31):

A central focus of discussions on the sharing of heritages is the question of transcultural diver­sity. A real diversity of skills and a multiplicity of heritage traditions exist that call for a genuine heritage education.  

Note 4. Heritage education (p57):

Heritage education is understood here to mean a body of initiatives to encourage the understanding and decoding of various elements of tangible and intangible cultural heritage through educational and cultural institutions. The dual aim is to provide a common basis for citizens to recognise the hetero­geneity and the diversity of Europe’s heritage and to preclude the use of parts of that heritage to exclude certain identities. 

* * *

The 2008 charter[5] of ICOMOS can be considered a further step. It contains some points that relate to our concern. The fourth among seven Objectives defines the aim of respecting the authenticity of cultural heritage sites, by communicating the significance of their historic fabric and cultural values”.

The activity of the International Scientific Committee on Interpretation and Presentation of Cultural Heritage Sites of ICOMOS (ICIP) has so far come closest to the issue of diachronic diversity. The ICIP website clearly sets the specific aim to its activities to formulate and publish „operational guidelines on interpretation standards and procedures for communities and heritage professionals”. The value frames for those standards are firmly based on cultural diversity[6].

The latest in time is the 2009 policy paper[7] of Europa Nostra, the pan-European federation for cultural heritage. This, however, pays much less attention to the aspects of sensitivity, and does not emphasise it in its standards of communicating cultural heritage.

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A common feature of the Faro Convention, the Manifesto, as well as the work of ICIP that they focus on the hot issues of conflicts, reconciliation, on the challenges of what is (elsewhere) called dissonant heritage: when heritage objects are conflicting with the actual social environment, typically as remainders or a former regime. They do not offer obligatory standards for historical fairness in the absence of acute tension, when the lack of recognition of diachronic diversity in the presentation of heritage is not necessarily due to open or latent conflicts. The obliteration of past diversity is most often due to collective amnesia, indifference and ignorance than to purposeful falsification and cultural disappropriation.

Neglecting historic diversity is entirely against the ideals behind the process towards a European Heritage Label, “based on shared elements of history and heritage, as well as an appreciation of diversity”, to quote from the introduction of the relevant main document, the draft Decision[8]. Furthermore, the focus is promised to be on promotion, „which includes providing good explanations on the European significance of the sites”.

Exemplary presentation could be the real added value of the European label, as compared to other initiatives, above all to the World Heritage List: a particular European standard of the presentation of heritage objects. The preparatory proposals, however, lack really specific and strict expectations, especially with regard to historical equity. The process that will be culminated by the adoption of the proposal was little explicit in this matter, and the demand does not seem to have sprung up during the open consultation either. How come the spirit of the Strasbourg Manifesto and the ICOMOS committee did not have a more direct impact on the process? The inception of the European Heritage Label is apparently connected to more consolidated conditions than the acute tensions that fuelled the work behind the Manifesto and in ICIP.

In keeping with the consolidated conditions that surround most of the heritage sites in the European Union, historical fairness in the presentation should be based on the appreciation, even celebration of past diversity (reflecting a multiperspective approach to history advocated in the Manifesto) rather than on reconciliation, compensation or virtual restitution.

* * *

To be entirely concrete. About forty words added to the nearly 3000 in the draft Proposal for a decision could have made this plea more explicit. (See the two most essential hypothetical insertions in the box.)

In Article 7 paragraph (2), the item that calls for multilingualism as a criterion committing the applicants for the label could read as follows:

– promoting multilingualism by using several languages of the European Union, including languages whose communities used to be significantly connected to the site in the past;

In the same Article 7 paragraph (3) one more item could be added to the list that contains elements of a management plan:

ensuring fair treatment in the communication towards all communities that used to be attached to the site in the past. 

* * *

Implementation matters most. If we were to design the process, we would apply a reverse order. Since in our eyes the harmonisation of the presentation of heritage sites is essential, we would first painstakingly elaborate common principles, ways and formats of displaying and interpreting heritage items. Second, we would encourage holders of sites in great numbers across Europe to apply these criteria. Third, those who have implemented the standards of managing and presenting heritage in a truly European manner should be monitored. And fourth only, would we enlist them into a common list, and into a joint marketing pool. Exclusivity would be based on quality and discipline, not on country quotas.

Although the European Institutions are determined to follow the wrong order, we still hope that the implementation of the Heritage Label will take place in the European spirit of respecting full historical diachronic diversity. Guides presenting heritage sites and objects will tell proudly about the people(s) that are connected to those items, representing various languages, religions, habits and cultures: Greeks, Turks, Serbs, Jews, Armenians, Germans, Poles, or any other nation.

Péter Inkei, August 2011

[1] The Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, as amended by the Treaty of Lisbon, 2007

[2] International Charter for the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Sites (The Venice Charter), 1964
Article 16. In all works of preservation, restoration or excavation, there should always be precise documentation in the form of analytical and critical reports, illustrated with drawings and photographs. Every stage of the work of clearing, consolidation, rearrangement and integration, as well as technical and formal features identified during the course of the work, should be included. This record should be placed in the archives of a public institution and made available to research workers. It is recommended that the report should be published. (My italics – P.I.)

[3] World Heritage Convention, 1972. Here are the words that come closest to our issue:
Article 5 (each State Party to this Convention shall endeavour) „to adopt a general policy which aims to give the cultural and natural heritage a function in the life of the community and to integrate the protection of that heritage into comprehensive planning programmes;.”

[4] The most relevant extracts from the Nara Document:
(4) In a world that is increasingly subject to the forces of globalization and homogenization, and in a world in which the search for cultural identity is sometimes pursued through aggressive nationalism and the suppression of the cultures of minorities, the essential contribution made by the consideration of authenticity in conservation practice is to clarify and illuminate the collective memory of humanity.
(6) Cultural heritage diversity exists in time and space, and demands respect for other cultures and all aspects of their belief systems. In cases where cultural values appear to be in conflict, respect for cultural diversity demands acknowledgment of the legitimacy of the cultural values of all parties.
(8) ...Balancing their own requirements with those of other cultural communities is, for each community, highly desirable, provided achieving this balance does not undermine their fundamental cultural values.

[5] The ICOMOS Charter for the Interpretation and Presentation of Cultural Heritage Sites, Québec, 2008

[6] These principles are best illustrated with an Internet post by the president of the committee:
The obsession of nation-states with self-confirmatory monumental heritage, its linkage to national sovereignty rights, and the selective preservation of ’authentic’ national historic landscapes can only lead to their manufacture through overt ’heritage cleansing’...              

The mad delusion that the past was ’pure’ and the present inconveniently disrupted by historically intrusive Others is shared by many nations, the most obvious examples (but certainly not the only ones!) being the Balkans, Central Asia, and the Middle East (Read: Israel’s and Palestine’s toxically superimposed ’heritage lists’).                

I am convinced that the willful Heritage Destruction that regularly occurs in the name of National Identity and Historical Preservation will be remembered as one of the barbaric tendencies of our times. Especially because what is left is a kind of kitschy, trivialized pseudo-memory, enshrined at the officially approved national ’heritage attractions’, selling leisure-time diversion, ’authentic’ folklore and historical factoids, snacks, cold drinks, and suitably trivial souvenirs.”

[7] Why Cultural Heritage Matters for Europe? Europa Nostra Calls for European Action, Europa Nostra Policy Document, Adopted by Council during the 2009 Annual Congress in Taormina, Italy

[8] Proposal for a decision of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a European Union action for the European Heritage Label, March 2010.