School of Transnational Governance

Giovanni Boccardi, Chief of the Emergency Preparedness and Response Unit of UNESCO, talks cultural heritage protection at the EUI

The interview was co-organised by the STG and the Global Governance Programme of the EUI

This week we had the pleasure to hear how the international protection of cultural heritage works, directly from the Chief of the Emergency Preparedness and Response Unit of UNESCO, Giovanni Boccardi.

Boccardi was interviewed by Jasper Chalcraft, Jean Monnet Fellow at the EUI working on heritage and the cultural inclusion of migrants and minorities within Europe.

Boccardi kicked off the discussion by reminding the audience of the many cultural sites that are currently in danger in the world, particularly the old city of Mosul, Iraq. Situated at the crossroads of the Middle East, Mosul was defined as a ‘symbol of the multifaceted identity of Iraq: a place where many different cultures have been able to coexist peacefully.’

‘After years of painful destruction of historic monuments and sites’ said Boccardi, ‘the UNESCO aims to revive that multicultural environment: we aim at reviving the spirit, not just the fabric of the city. This — he said — entails not only physical reconstruction, but also reviving the economic and social life, and the re-building of a culture of inclusivity.’

Reflecting on the way we normally conceive cultural heritage, he noted that ‘the question is not only how to protect cultural heritage, but how to shift our perception to conceive it as a positive asset, rather than a liability.’

Cultural heritage can play an active role in peacebuilding and reconstruction, and in the whole UN mandate 

Reuben Lewis and Velomahanina Razakamaharavo, both Policy Leaders Fellows at the STG, then opened the Q&A session. Reuben Lewis is an experienced peace-building practitioner, and during his fellowship at the School, he is researching conflict prevention and democratic state-building in Africa. Velomahanina Razakamaharavo works on gender training in the UN and NATO peace-keeping operations.

During the open discussion, Boccardi analysed the political dimension of cultural heritage and the cases where it represents a source of conflict.

Recalling the recent withdrawal of the United States from UNESCO, he said that ‘because of cases of contested cultural heritage, UNESCO has experienced several problems with its member states,’ noting that ‘we do have a moral obligation to do whatever it takes to protect our shared heritage. But it is a complex, balancing act.’

For more information on upcoming high-level talks at the EUI, visit our event page.