ICH is not possible without living human treasures

© DC “Democracy through Culture”

Mr Saša Srećković is a UNESCO ICH Global facilitator. He is an ethnologist and senior curator at the Ethnographic Museum in Belgrade, the coordinator for Intangible Cultural Heritage for Serbia. His specialization is in the area of cultural and museum management, and the relationship between heritage and social and economic development. He is also a documentary filmmaker.

 Valentyna Demian: Hello, mister Srećković:

The Development Centre “Democracy through Culture” is making a set of interviews concerning different aspects of the ICH safeguarding. We place these interviews, arousing interest among wide audience, on our website, in the section “Platform for the intangible cultural heritage”. I know that you are making serious studies of numerous problems or, better to say, challenges facing the intangible cultural heritage, that is: ICH in emergency situations, ICH and agrarian heritage, the role of the ICH as a living heritage in our ordinary life. Your thought of recognized expert is very important for us since we are also looking for answers for similar questions which are now common in our world. Besides, our communication is valuable as experience sharing, and, as our Italian colleague, Vincenzo Capuano, said, “all this creates interculturality which is the true bridge between peoples, creating new synergies”. We are thankful that you’ve agreed for this conversation, for your answers and your time.

Let’s start with a question which bothers me personally and not only me, it’s about ICH in emergency situations. Emergencies, of course, are various, including the war, natural disasters, ecological changes, etc., and, as you have indicated in your contribution to a social network, a great suffering happened with all us now. Saša, tell us, please, what do you think about the role of ICH in emergencies?

Saša Srećković:

As stated by the recent report of the relevant UNESCO working group there exist twofold considerations. First, emergencies such as the actual global disaster certainly affect ICH, too. Second, the role of ICH in bringing relief to the affected people is also very important.

V.D.: How do you think, whether traditional productions, crafts are a lifeline for the development of local communities, job creation, considering that any emergency leads to job losses, welfare worsening?

S.S.:  It is definitely an opportunity, but before rendering it fully operational we have to ‘’adjust’’ overall ‘’climate’’ and  legal settings of  a state, otherwise we face lots of obstacles while trying to carry out  almost  any kind of traditional production. Experts on ICH have to influence the adequate public policies first so as to draw real benefits out of ICH.

V.D.: The agrarian heritage is the important and multidisciplinary domain where many lines are intertwined: tangible, natural, intangible heritage. In particular, traditional meals, weaving, beekeeping, etc., are closely related with agrarian heritage. On your opinion, Saša, what is the role of the ICH? Have you examples of agrarian heritage studies in Serbia? Is it a topic for public discourse? Are communities ready to work in this direction?   

S.S.: According to my experience communities are ready and flexible, but many institutions are not while showing considerable delays, too much often behind the reality. There are relevant studies in Serbia, but they were not produced under the modern concept of agrarian heritage; still many offer valuable insights where not only many disciplines can benefit, but society and economy in general. I think that different disciplines should converge their findings and studies on this subject. We serve the society as a whole, not only particular professional vanities.

V.D.: Let’s return to the heritage issue in emergencies. Armed conflicts lead to migrations, people are lifted clear of places of their residence and “carry with” them their heritage to other places. However, not all kinds of heritage could be carried, including above mentioned agrarian heritage. What should we do in such cases? I understand that it’s rather wide question to be answered without deep analysis, but your view is very interesting.

S.S.:  Some traditions do not indispensably need specific associated places to get enacted, as is the case with music, dances, etc. Such is the case with our refugees and their local traditions from ex-Yugoslavia after the civil wars. However, it is different when we promote cultivating specific plant seeds or animal species as safeguarding measures that are closely related to specific soil, climate, ecosystems. Sometimes the gifted ICH practitioners find their way regardless of places, but we should keep in mind that here and there we should  raise  claims over tangible cultural (also meaning: natural) spaces, too.

 V.D.: We discuss complicated questions touching hard topics, but our life is that. Now, when the whole world is struggling against Covid-19, it will affect the intangible cultural heritage as well since many ICH presentations which have social aspect, celebrations, traditional practices, festivals, rituals, etc., are on “quarantine” now. On the other hand, it’s a good opportunity to dive into the heritage, to communicate through social networks, to tell about own cultural heritage… My question is the following: how heritage could help to survive such hard periods?

S.S.: Any ‘’tectonic disturbances’’ and traumatic events bring along mass displacements, migrations, loss of  jobs; even standstills are problematic. On the other hand, it is particularly important in such circumstances to remind ourselves of heritage issues, i.e. identity, i.e. who we are. The use of internet and digital technologies is very helpful in this context. If we only knew the right measure .

V.D.: Inventorying is an interesting and lasting process. What principal rules should we follow so communities learn and recognize threats for the ICH?

S.S.: As long as there is enough mass of practitioners who enjoy beneficial environment for continuation of relevant practices threats can’t be regarded as serious. To sum up, ICH is not possible without living practitioners, especially living human treasures. 

V.D.:  We’ve made interesting interview, discussing very complicated questions to which many people would like to get answer today. I am very thankful you, indeed, Saša for this conversation and your answers, and hope to continue our collaboration.

@Naira Kilichyan

@Naira Kilichyan


© DC “Democracy through Culture”