Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Cultural heritage and a common European identity by Hatto Fischer


Use of 'cultural heritage' in Volos for strategic planning

The HERMES project has given the City of Volos the chance to take its special emphasis upon cultural heritage further. By deciding upon the construction of three new museums (Argonaut Museum, Industrial Heritage at Tsalapatas and Museum of the City), a courageous development idea has taken hold of major institutions in the city in support of the implementation of the city's policies. This may set off an entirely new process maturing around a Cultural Development Plan (see Linz, Austria as possible model), in order to facilitate integration of all cultural institutions into the overall development strategy of the city.

Within the HERMES project Hatto Fischer has been asked to complete two studies, one about the use of modern media by museums, in order to guide future investments in that direction, and the second about successful cultural planning strategies, so as to provide a framework of references for a cultural strategy plan to be worked out at local level in Volos.

In all these cases the term 'cultural heritage' is crucial and in need of further clarification. Here some thesis may facilitate discussions and studies:


What linkage exists between cultural heritage and concept of time?

Methodologically speaking, every time line of development follows the need to know to what degree preservation is good, compared to what extent does such preservation of cultural heritage prevent people and their city and region from developing further (go over and beyond past limits)?

- Cultural heritage includes the ‘wisdom of the ancestors’ as something in need of being respected, and therefore it is directly linked to ‘cultural rights’ not yet secured sufficiently in the new EU constitution? [1]

Methodology of mediation between theory / practice, or what is conceived to be theory in the analysis and description of what is happening to cultural heritage in Europe compared to what impetus for identity is derived from cultural heritage e.g. seeing an old castle, having read about the Middle Ages and wondering how viable such a place is today under modern economic and social conditions

- Narratives of cultural heritage: will it be possible to conceive next to Gombrich’s “The Story of Art” “A Story of Cultural Heritage in Europe” whereby the importance of buildings (architecture) and meaning of place intertwine with questions of location (beside a river, up on a hill, next to the forest) and ownership (who owes the land and what power did that mean other and different from what all kinds of narratives suggest, in particular starting with fairy tales).

Method or Good Practice Example: There are projects which attempt to link local community to cultural heritage by using artistic means to bring out the ‘memory’ of the place and thereby the identity and meaning of the locality. (see annex 1)

- modern conservationists would see in ‘cultural heritage’ as a measure of the arts, including what techniques are used to produce wooden frames, hinges, so that everything which goes into a building over and beyond mere necessity is already cultural heritage: a specific achievement of a certain period of time.

Method of validation and valorisation: There needs to be acknowledged that cultural heritage has a different value the moment an outstanding achievement is manifested e.g. Michel Angelo’s paintings in the Sistine Chapel.

- Need for preservation comes with the realization that not all cultures and political situations respect other expressions especially if they remind of different orders that could be even opposed to the one the ruling power tries to establish e.g. Talibans’ rule in Afghanistan went so far as to the destroy the Buddha statues and many valuable cultural artefacts in the museum of civilisation in Kabul. Here the combined efforts of UNESCO and other international / national bodies could not prevent these Buddha statues from being destroyed. It is an interesting case of forceful destruction by using dynamite to blow them up, but there are other forms of destruction stemming from sheer neglect and failure to upkeep the buildings / site and what sort of information goes with them, so that people can acknowledge on own terms what these cultural artefacts stand for and represent in terms of culture, religion, ethics, aesthetical values, political and economic system.

Method of retaining ‘living memory’: Key concept for cultural heritage is really the ‘living memory’ of people. Destruction of cultural heritage begins and ends with the destruction of memory and therefore meanings people attach to certain places, events and other people. Retold in countless stories, a living process cannot be comprehended without there being access to memory. Cultural heritage cannot be told or communicated without people having ‘living memory’. Vasilis Sgouris, Director of DEMEKAV, the Municipal Enterprise of Volos,points out that the kind of development needed in such a city as Volos is that people must find again access to their own past. As this problem prevails, and it can be described as being cut off from 'memory' and 'collective experiences made in the past',such a problemsays a lot at the same time as to what kind ofcity development shall be needed in near future. However, any new approach towardsdevelopment by including culture and cultural heritageis only successful in implementation if accepted by the people and used in such a specific way that they feel refreshed in terms of not merely body and mind but equally in their living memories.

Cultural Heritage as 'memories of the future'

The philosopher Ernst Bloch gave to one of his books following title: 'Erbschaft dieser Zeit'or ‚the heritage of these times'. Our understanding thereof does depend on how we experience and reflect upon the times we live through right now. And time is more than a mere extension of the present into the future. For cultural heritage, memory and stories passed on over generations allows us to reflect upon entire cultural periods e.g. classical Greece, Roman period, Renaissance, Enlightenment, Modern times etc. And when we refer to culture, we do not mean as of yet civilization. The latter sets deeper premises over times and encompasses a whole set of values and beliefs e.g. Western civilization. 

As such, culture reflects what is being lived by children and youth, that is by the future generations who shall inherit what is done but also not done to make the world the place it presents itself as. That includes war, economic crisis and other events by which people remember more than what happened to their individual self as it touches upon larger dimensions.

Given the environmental problems, the children of the future shall inherit as much polluted rivers as overcrowded cities. If resources, society, people and culture are abused rather than used wisely (it was one objective of the CIED project: 'learn to use and not to abuse culture'), then shortages of all kinds shall confront and constraint mankind in the wish to be creative and to face the future in all openness.

It is a matter of cultural economy to mediate between the present and future. People do not wish to be burdened by the past but then as the Holocaust discussion shows, the past cannot be so simply forgotten, especially if it contains more than just unpleasant memories. At the same time, the wish to live in the present und to realize everything 'here and now', has produced a young generation with 'no future'. That deep resignation followed after the Student Protest Movement had withered out after 1968 - 72.

The short comings since the 1970-80ties were reflected in the philosophical debates. They were influenced by Deconstructivists Theories and became a wider movement known as Structuralism. It is a part of the French School of Thought most aptly described by Martin Jay in his book 'Disenchantment of the Eye'. This intellectual resignation reflects an overall disillusionment as to what theories and intellectual life can bring about in a life faced with many more difficulties and hardships than could have been imagined after 1945 to exist in Europe and in the world. Still, it is important to know what these times lived now will bestow upon future generations?

Philosophy defines periods of time as follows: “The classical of the Classics stands before each time period just like the revolutionary romantic, namely as a task pointing forward and as a solution, one coming not from the past, but from the future and itself speaks, addresses and calls to go on because filled with future.” [2] More distinctly it makes “the substratum of cultural heritage… above all (into a) this future in the past.” - Bloch [3]

Habermas speaks about a similar notion when referring to the past as not fully living its potentialities, but carrying with it a ‘memory of the future’: something is retained as a potential which can materialize itself when the conditions are ripe. Indeed people have insights into their potentialities if they are able to keep these memories alive, as part of their forward looking attitude towards life. It may be called at times ‘utopia’, ‘vision’, or just the potentiality of man. It is the acknowledgement that the empirical present is never everything. Man can give and live more fully, i.e. self conscious to be a human being once his potentialities are perceived with a measure of freedom and self-esteem.

Cultural heritage and planners

Usually cultural heritage is treated by planners as the ‘built-up’ evidence of the past:

“Preserving the built-up heritage of cities and villages is today an important goal for local government and planning agencies in most advanced-economy countries, and even in some developing countries. But because all advanced-economy countries today have a marked-based economy and enshrine property rights in law and policy, the public's desire to reserve the physical legacy for future generation usually clashes head on with development expectations of property owners or (where there are no such pressures) with landowners' reluctance to invest in costly maintenance or rehabilitation. Local government and other agencies in each country often find that they must invent ingenious legal-economic instruments to control or stimulate preservation – only to discover similar impediments.” – Prof. Rachelle Altermann

Spatial Planning, Regional Development and Role of Cultural Heritage

At the outset of the project, and due to the fact of HERMES being an Interreg III B - CADSES Project, it meant focusing on the relationship between'Cultural Heritage and Regional Development'. Here someideasas to whatWP 2 of the HERMES project should contain are reflected intheopinionsby Miriana Iordanova, National Regional Development Centre, Bulgaria 18.5.2004


ESDP – European Spatial Development Plan

She added a few more words in this direction by citing the "ESDP – European Spatial Development Plan (134). It states that

  1. The natural and cultural heritage is an economic factor, which is becoming increasingly important for regional development.
  2. The quality of life of towns and cities, their hinterland and rural areas plays an increasingly important role in the location decisions of new companies.
  3. Natural and cultural places of interest are also an essential precondition for the development of tourism.

In paragraph (158) it says: "The different life styles of inhabitants of European towns and cities have to be viewed in their entirety, as a part of the cultural heritage. Many European cities are subject to the dangers of commercialization and cultural uniformity, which destroys their own individuality and identity. This includes, for example, real estate speculation, infrastructure projects that are out of scale with their environment or ill-considered adaptations to mass tourism. These factors frequently combine to cause serious damage to the structure and the social life of towns and cities and to reduce their potential as attractive locations for mobile investments."

Any European project dealing with cultural heritage has to take that into account and verify were possible.

Cultural Heritage as basis of common Cultural Identity in Europe

Aside from this need for a thorough understanding as to the linkage between spatial planning and cultural heritage to further development, there is another crucial matter to which such a European project can and should contribute, namely to examine what is the common cultural heritage of all Europeans and thereby contribute towards one common cultural identity as to safeguard and to promote European identity as part of common citizenship based on similar and common values linked to a cultural heritage made up of various influences (Ancient Greece, Byzantine, Renaissance, Classics and Romantics, Enlightenment, Gothic, Modernism etc.).

In other words, further studies of cultural elements which can contribute towards a common European identity are very much needed as the identity building process is more than a mere build up of images or even a mere matter of branding culture as being European.

Cultural Landscapes and the Intangible

Throughout the HERMES Project existed as well the Sustainability discussion initiated especially by the Partner in Toblach. The need to look at the ecological and environmental dimension of cultural heritage as departure point for further going discussions about the future of Europe in terms of cultural sustainability includes preserving its natural and cultural landscapes.

Hatto Fischer

Athens 2004

[1] Simon Mundy, Cultural Rights and European Democracies in Transition, felix meritis papers nr. 10, Amsterdam 1999
[2] "Das Klassische in jeder Klassik steht vor jeder Zeit genauso als revolutionäre Romantik da, nämlich als vorwärts weisende Aufgabe und als Lösung, die aus der Zukunft, nicht aus der Vergangenheit entgegenkommt und selber noch voll Zukunft spricht, anspricht, weiterruft." (Bloch 1982 I, 177)
[3] "Das Substrat des Kulturerbes überhaupt ist diese Zukunft in der Vergangenheit." Ernst Bloch

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