Building peace in the minds of men and women
The UNESCO website makes it very clear that this commitment – building peace in the minds of men and women – is at the very foundation of the United Nations, established after the horrors of World War Two.
UNESCO was created as part of this new UN, and stated the following in its constitution “since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed”. It goes on to say that “a peace based exclusively upon the political and economic arrangements of governments would not be a peace which could secure the unanimous, lasting and sincere support of the peoples of the world, and that the peace must therefore be founded, if it is not to fail, upon the intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind”.
So in essence, UNESCO was created because it was viewed that politics and economics are not enough to build a lasting peace, and that it must be based on “humanity’s moral and intellectual solidarity.”
While trying to digest Friday’s atrocity in Paris over the weekend, it was very clear to me and anyone looking at the news or on social media that people everywhere want to play their part, express their support, and show their solidarité for the people of Paris and France.
I have been involved in the management of a World Heritage Site for over 10 years now, and it was only over this weekend that for the first time I made this link between our role and the fundamental mission of UNESCO, and that word, ‘solidarity’ was at the heart of it; “humanity’s moral and intellectual solidarity.”
I can understand if you ask, what have World Heritage Sites got to do with Friday’s events? In themselves, absolutely nothing, but within this context of UNESCO’s mission, and the fact that the designations are UNESCO designations, surely there are ways in which World Heritage Sites can be more proactively used as forces for peace in the world – even if only as flag bearers for the wider aims of UNESCO, and the wider goals that it can achieve.
UNESCO say “Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritage are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration.” We have seen recently the global outcry at the desecration of Palmyra. Looking deeper, perhaps part of the reasons for its destruction was because it was thought to be a symbol whose damage would send a strong message to the world. Conversely, its destruction has been a very tangible act which people can relate to – someone said to me that would be like ‘blowing up Stonehenge’, and you can imagine the response that would bring in the UK.
The World Heritage Convention also indicates that the unique nature of the concept is its “universal application” and that Sites “belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located.” This simple statement gives us a tangible means to bind ourselves together – all 191 states who have signed up to the convention.
So, coming back to UNESCO – they say that their mission is the following, and I have highlighted certain areas that have a resonance with World Heritage:
- In a globalized world with interconnected societies, intercultural dialogue is vital if we are to live together while acknowledging our diversity
- In an uncertain world, the future of nations depends not only on their economic capital or natural resources, but on their collective ability to understand and anticipate changes in the environment – through education, scientific research and the sharing of knowledge.
- In an unstable world – marked by fledgling democratic movements, the emergence of new economic powers and societies weakened by multiple stress factors – the educational, scientific and cultural fabric of societies – along with respect for fundamental rights – guarantees their resilience and stability.
Looking at this gives me a little hope that our national and global networks of outstanding places might be able to play a role, albeit probably a small one when dwarfed with the collective power of people and governments, in helping meet these laudable aims. It is probably by working with people and with governments that this may happen, and I sincerely hope that it can for whilst the World Heritage Convention is arguably doing a good job at conserving our cultural and natural heritage for future generations, is it helping to meet its wider role within UNESCO?
As for what to do, I don’t have the answers, but I urge all of you involved in World Heritage to bring this wider mission to the front of your minds, consider it in your plans, your hopes and your aspirations for your World Heritage Sites, and be bold.
As I finish writing this I have noticed on the twitter hashtag #solidarite that Durham Cathedral and St Georges Hall Liverpool, both constituent parts of World Heritage Sites, have lit up their buildings with the tricolor to show their solidarity with France. Perhaps my hope is not unfounded!