Presentation of the project “The Living Heritage of Traditional Bulgarian Cuisine” in Vidin13/07/2023
Eleventh coordination meeting of category 2 centres for intangible cultural heritage22/08/2023
Prof. DSc Ivan Kabakov
Department of ‘History and Theory of Culture’ at the Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”
R.C.: What are the key messages of the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage that remain relevant to this day?
One of the key elements accentuated by the Convention is the preservation of knowledge and skills as part of the intangible cultural heritage. In addition to constituting a value in and of themselves, they also make it possible to safeguard the intangible cultural heritage in its authentic form, by interacting with artisans, craftsmen and conservators-restorers. Today, while artificial intelligence successfully replaces human intellect in many areas, and digital technology makes handywork largely redundant, it is especially important to at least preserve the memory of traditional fields of knowledge and human skills in general, and specifically, where these are applied in traditional arts and crafts. That preserved memory keeps visible the ‘traces’ of human development while storing information about its ‘revolutionary leaps forward’ and, also, providing pointers for change in modern societies. That memory holds the key to an understanding and interpretation of traditional societies as well, which have an impact on our behaviour, perception, and responses to the reality surrounding us, even in conditions of globalization and large-scale mass migrations that transform the map of the world.
The preserved knowledge and skills are a marker of the societal development attained by a nation. Their recognition as intangible cultural heritage in accordance with the 2003 Convention is an indicator of the institutional awareness of their significance. Another message that can be found hidden in it is the recognition of non-formal education as a means of transmitting and keeping alive the cultural heritage being safeguarded, which requires of the memory institution to be not mere guardians but, additionally, active participants in the process of transmission of that heritage, which can also be achieved by training. As part of the important messages, we should point to the recommendation for the signatory states to provide conditions for the ‘creation or strengthening of the institutions tasked with training personnel in the area of management of the intangible cultural heritage’, which, in addition to again having relevance to the issue of the knowledge and skills, is a reminder of a painful deficiency in this country: the absence of a sustainable long-term strategy for the governance of culture. We should also point to the designated space for involvement of various stakeholders (and, primarily, the communities of practitioners of that heritage and bearers of the relevant memory) in the process of safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage. Irrespective of the fact that the term ‘stakeholder’ has become more of a cliché through its overuse, it has not, thus far, been sufficiently understood in terms of its true content. The reason for that is the attitude cultivated in the times of socialism, that anything in the public sphere should be the concern of the state and its institutions. It is for that reason that one is left under the impression that regarding and experiencing the communal as one’s own is alien to the Bulgarian mindset, whereas it is extremely important when the safeguarding of the cultural heritage is at stake.
R.C.: Would you outline tendencies in the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage that are related to the use of formal and non-formal education and come as a result of educational policies and practices?
A leading tendency in the territory of the European Union adding more weight to the significance of non-formal education and validating the experience acquired through it. It acquires a specific shape and dimension in the work of the memory institutions, which concern themselves with the safeguarding of the cultural heritage, allowing them to introduce practical models of professional advancement by validating the outcomes of a long-standing practice of specific professions, related primarily to the safeguarding, research, exploration and socialization of that heritage. In addition, that role of the memory institutions as a factor in training and building human resources contributes towards ironing out the visible discrepancy between demand in the labor market and the capacity of the formal education system to meet such demand.
In Bulgaria, however, that tendency is not supported by specific educational policies and practices developed in consideration of the changes occurring in the field of safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage in terms of the professional profiles, quality standards in performing the relevant activities, and meeting their specific requirements. This information provides food for thought as well as ample terrain for future work.
Besides, Europe as a whole is witnessing, at supranational level, the increasing role of the risk and (primarily) impact assessment as a tool for the management of the cultural heritage, designed to avert irreparable damage not only to the tangible but also to the intangible heritage as a result of different types of interventions and impacts. This tendency and the use of the tool referred to for directing processes in the cultural domain are almost without analog or any development in the sphere of the intangible cultural heritage not only in Bulgaria but in all of South-Eastern Europe, whereas it would be advisable to consider some reciprocal measures in that particular sphere of the cultural heritage.
R.C.: Which are the highlights in marking the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Convention and how do they relate to the dynamic changes in the political, cultural, social and economic context in Bulgaria today?
In my view, these highlights should be attuned to the already mentioned directions, trends and tools of governance, in order to attain greater effectiveness and public benefit from the adoption and implementation of the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.
R.C.: In what direction do you anticipate the evolution of the Regional Category 2 Centres in terms of the safeguarding, preservation and development of the living heritages?
The direction in which to steer our quest for ways and means to ensure the sustainable development and vitality of the intangible cultural heritage that we seek to safeguard is, in my view, a legitimate enough, strategically significant goal. A goal that involves strenuous work with the young generation, with representatives of the cultural and creative industries, who are in a position to propose an innovative interpretation of the inherited forms of creativity (some exquisite examples of that can be found in the domain of Bulgarian folklore) and interpretation that are in unison with the perception of young people and aligned with their way of life. Such partnership with the cultural and creative industries could open up opportunities for marketing of the reproduced forms of cultural heritage as a way of their promotion and sustainable existence.
R.C.: In what way has your personal experience in interacting with the intangible cultural heritage had an impact on your professional growth?
To me, the intangible cultural heritage has always been a source of powerful creative inspiration. The skilful use of materials, the combination of utility and a sense of beauty, have influenced my aesthetic mindset. Professionally speaking, the exploration of skills and knowledge as part of our traditional arts and crafts has contributed to the accumulation of fresh knowledge, the adoption of new research methods, to expanding my professional contacts through the creation of teams and cooperative networks with fellow researchers. And, to a very large extent, to my conceptual enrichment and personal satisfaction with surmounting the diverse challenges that have occurred, and keep occurring, in the course of my research work.
 Legislation and professional development in the sphere of the cultural heritage. A historical review and current state of affairs in the Republic of Bulgaria (in Bulgarian, compiled by Ivan Kabakov), Sofia, St. Kliment Ohridski University Publishing House, 2020. / https://kinnpor.uni-sofia.bg/resources/item/55-zakonodatelstvo-profesionalno-razvitie
 Културният потенциал на народните и художествените занаяти (съст. Иван Кабаkов). Габрово, Фабриkата, 2016.