I, World Heritage (Jaime's rant, Christmas special)
|Jaime Almansa at the entrance of Museo Arqueológico Nacional (Madrid, Spain)|
These past few weeks we have been conducting a course from Universidad Complutense de Madrid and Museo Arqueológico Nacional where students had to design and guide a visit across the museum about the archaeological dimension of World Heritage. It was a difficult task, specially due to the time frame, but a very challenging one.
In one of the stops of the visits, students asked what site would we declare World Heritage. I, erring hedonist, thought: Myself!
It is a pity I am not a group of buildings or a site, but if I flatter myself as a construction worker does with cute women, I could define myself as a monument; a monumental sculpture with an universal value from the point of view of History, Art and Science.
As besides hedonist, I am a bit pretentious, I believe my values are remarkably exceptional and go beyond the borders of my nation, today and for the future. The international community should protect me. I'll ask for the Ethiopian nationality, because being Spanish might play against my endeavor, but, anyway, it's decided!
Why? Because I have to comply with at least one of the criteria, and I really think I do:
1. To represent a piece of human creative genius. I told you I'm pretentious, haven't I? I don't know anyone with my creative genius... Just look where I'm going with this post!
2. To exhibit an important interchange of human values... As a researcher, I think I'm starting to stand out in the definition and development of public archaeology and I've been years sharing values and knowledge.
3. To bear a unique or, at least, exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition... This is so wide that I will say I also have it. I always said that people from El Cabaco are 'special' and that can also mean unique and exceptional.
4. To be a unique example of a type of building... (I won't claim this one, because I'm not the best model and 'monument' as typology is already a weak link to force it more. But three of four already and only because I'm lazy to find this one).
5. To be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement... or the human interaction with the environment. Did I tell you I grow a garden and my grandad told me how to graft chestnut trees? Tell me how many city boys do you know who can do like me in the village. And I also am archaeologist!
6. To be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions... If we leave aside my personal cosmology, which is quite unique, I told you I am a figure of public archaeology and soon, an artist too!
I won't apply for the natural ones, I have enough being Cultural World Heritage.
Do you think I can convince Ethiopia to inscribe me in the tentative list? Maybe it takes a while, but I am still sure they should declare me. My mother, that for me is an outstanding authoritative argument, will support it for sure. She always said I'm unique, although she doesn't approve the Ethiopian nationality swift... Anyway, this year we passed the 1.000 declared sites and if all that has an universal outstanding value, I also have it for sure.
It is a pity I don't have time to prepare a draft of the nomination file, it would have been fun for sure. Specially when dealing with the management plan, or the protection mesures that Ethiopia should implement for me. Maybe, if I get declared World Heritage my live would be worse... limited, and having to cope with groups of tourists coming to speak with me... I hate crowds!
However, half joking, half serious, I could support five of the six cultural criteria to declare a site as World Heritage, only with my person. Obviously people cannot be declared and I don't find myself that interesting for humanity, although I always had 'James-Bond-villain' complex. This small Christmas 'gift' is a wake-up call about the way we are heading.
I told you we have reached the 1.000 declared sites this year and when I look at the list, I am really worried about it (better not to talk about inmaterial ones). What is the aim of World Heritage?
When the Convention was signed in 1972, there is a very clear goal; safeguarding all those sites that represent a milestone for human history. Curiously, those sites always had something to do with Occidental history, or were exceptionally monumental. We were saving the sites we liked. With the development of international tourism, actually beginning to be popular at this moment with the democratization of airplane traveling, the list was not only a formula to protect heritage, but also a destination. What should I see if I visit...? In the 90s culture and heritage were democratized too and postmodern multiculturalism became a fashion. This also had a repercussion in the list, specially since Nara Declaration and the inclusion of dozens of new sites from the periphery. They soon realized that a poorly managed site could not be protected, and inclusion policies became tougher, demanding clear and factible management plans which ensured the future of the sites. It all seemed in order, but there are still a couple of problems, from my point of view:
-First: There are still lots of sites in the list that do not have a management plan, or whose plans are not implemented. Why? Sometimes a negligent management from the State, but normally a lack of interest. This is a complex issue to be treated in a couple of lines, but if a member State proposing a site is not interested in its management... Does it really have an exceptional universal value? The concept of value is defined by society, or even community. If the protection of a site is not demanded, then its value can be questioned. Moreover, if it was really valued, the list would be secondary.
-Second: When I think about sites that represent a milestone in the cultural and natural history of our planet, I don't count 1.000. There are sites in the list I don't know even being a professional of heritage, and others that I know, but have no value for me. Shouldn't we revisit the concept of universal exceptional value?
I really believe the list is washed up as it is now. That it should have been closed time ago. That our duty should be in a different place right now; in the management of those sites and their integration with others around to complement them and vertebrate the territory, although they are not that 'universal'. I believe in education as a way of protection; for society, but also for the politicians and technicians that have to manage those sites. I believe that if there is a real will to preserve and promote culture and heritage, the list would not e necessary, but without this will, it has no sense anyway. I believe this is a good moment to change of course, stop declaring for no reason, or obscure reasons (money? prestige? envy? pride? all capital sins).
This is like bringing the enemy home, or just a soft slap of reality to help us understand that beyond the World Heritage list there are people who deserve more than a list of names.