14th annual meeting of the South-East European Experts Network on Intangible Cultural Heritage

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The 14th annual meeting of the South-East European Experts Network on Intangible Cultural Heritage will take place on 26 June 2020 in a virtual modality due to the COVID-19 crisis. The meeting aims to support Member States from South-East Europe by sharing information and good practices and providing opportunities for participants to deepen their understanding of the roles of intangible cultural heritage in emergencies, with a specific focus on experiences from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The South-East European Experts Network on Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) was established in 2007 by UNESCO, through its Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe, in order to support the implementation of the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in the region.

The annual Network meetings contribute to enhancing a common understanding of opportunities and challenges linked to the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage as a key asset of South-East European cultural diversity, promoting the sharing of knowledge and good practices on national measures to implement the Convention, and serving as a platform to develop regional and cross-border cooperation.

As illustrated by an ongoing UNESCO survey on living heritage experiences and the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact of the crisis goes beyond our physical health, causing profound disruptions in our social and cultural lives. For some countries in South-East Europe, the impact of the crisis has been compounded by the occurrence of other natural disasters in close time proximity, such as the earthquakes that hit Albania in 2019 and Croatia in 2020.

Yet, intangible cultural heritage is also adaptive in nature and many communities are turning to their intangible cultural heritage to help respond to and cope with the crisis. It has shown to be a source of social cohesion, inspiration and creativity that can give hope and solidarity as well as a source of resilience for many communities who face social and economic precarity during such difficult times.

The 14th annual network meeting will be an opportunity for participants to share knowledge and experiences on the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage, as well as on related responses from relevant actors in the region; and, to stimulate critical thinking and inspire actions with regard to safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage (ICH)in Covid-19 times, beyond the current emergency period.

To achieve this, the online meeting is envisioned as a combination of:

– presentations informing on UNESCO’s work on ICH in emergencies, including the operational principles and modalities, which were endorsed by the Intergovernmental Committee at its 14th session in 2019 (Decision 14.COM 13)

– updates by participants and exchanges on the COVID-19 impact on ICH elements and communities, and on the diverse responses to the emergency, ranging from governmental measures to innovative grassroots actions

– discussions on ways to relaunch ICH activities after the COVID-19 emergency phase, also considering the socio-economic changes that the pandemic may provoke in the long term

For the first time, this annual meeting of the Network brings together experts representing ICH national authorities with the UNESCO-accredited facilitators from the countries concerned, to enrich the exchange of ideas and strengthen cooperation among different actors across the region.

The 2020 edition is organized by UNESCO (UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe, in cooperation with the UNESCO Culture Sector – Living Heritage Entity) with the support of the Regional Centre for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage in South-East Europe (Category 2 Centre operating under the auspices of UNESCO, based in Sofia, Bulgaria).

The meeting is made possible thanks to the annual contribution of Italy to the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe.