Heritage Protection and Local Communities in a Period of Financial Crisis


The current article is reviewing the protection of cultural heritage. Focus is given on local communities and the period after the financial crisis. Firstly, a review with the tendencies of local communities towards the protection of cultural heritage is presented. Then the financial crisis, the sensitization of citizens, the weakness of states and other parameters that enhance the tendency are being examined. According to the findings, the exclusion of the local inhabitants of a site and their cultural patrimony leaves out an important part of the site’s significance. Disconnecting these two components creates a great loss and renders both the site and the population weaker. The site loses part of its value and the people lose their land and source of livelihood and resource for cultural continuation.

Keywords: local communities, heritage, culture, financial crisis


Heritage is an omnipresent and defining feature of modern society. It is diverse and defines all people by being the cornerstone for their cultural identity. The papers and case studies demonstrate how the importance of heritage goes much further than the splendor of humanity’s tangible creation and the expressions of our intangible legacy. It goes beyond the outstanding artistic and historic value of a monument or the manifestation of human genius [3]

Heritage is presented in relation to politics and justice and as a concept intertwined with the notions of human rights, property rights and identity. These interrelations are susceptible to a variety of impediments that shake the very underpinnings of our societies and are the reason why heritage remains an essential component of who people are [2]

1. An episcope of  the protection of cultural heritage in local communities

The raising tendency for the participation of the local communities in the protection and management of their cultural heritage During the last years, the global community has taken a series of initiatives regarding the promotion of the active involvement of broader social groups in the procedure of decision making, thus establishing the approach of participatory planning. This approach aims to achieve the representative citizens’ involvement in the procedures of decision making and to ensure the maximum concessions feasible in the planned interventions.

The entrance of quality parameters, such as the one of civilization, in the development planning of the states was inaugurated in a constitutional context in 1946, with the foundation of UNESCO, which constitutes the educational, scientific and cultural organization of the United Nations, which is in charge of taking care, among others, for issues of civilization .In 1948, the Universal Declaration of the Human Rights was signed, where it is being referred for the first time that anyone has the right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy arts and to participate in the scientific progress and its results [9].

It is therefore illustrated that the cultural activities should be regarded as a privilege and luxury of a rich and educated minority of the population and to constitute a social right, as the right to education, work etc. Special provisions for the achievement of the goals of UNESCO, mainly concerning the equal access to education, passing and promotion of knowledge, constitute texts of UNESCO without a legal binding in the issues of access in cultural monuments that are being included mainly in the recommendation of 1960 concerning the most effective ways of rendering cultural monuments accessible for everyone. In this recommendation, it is stated that every state should receive all necessary law or other measures in order for the cultural monuments that are being in there area to be accessible independently of their financial or social situation.

This recommendation poses a series of driving regulations for the functional rationale of museums, as their character which must have a clear educational orientation. The aforementioned formulation of the human rights regarding civilization was recognized during the Global Conference for Cultural Policy [10]. In order to be translated though, in cooperation methods, it was needed to wait until 1990, when as far as development programs were concerned, the cultural specificities started to be taken into consideration.

Seeing civilization as a source that is being renewed by itself as well as means of alterations, as well as a carrier of ethical, aesthetics and mental values that can offer to the financial activities a more genuine aura, other than profit, development projects have presented actions of the total population that were being referred to. From this point of view, the target of civilization is not to disconnect and isolate a specific area or community from the rest of the world, but rather, to give it the possibility to play a central role in the system of international exchanges, whereas at the same time the rest of the people will be respecting its special characteristics.

In addition, the United Nations have been in charge for the coordination of a series of actions and manifestations, which have been implemented under the general thematic title Global Decade for the Cultural Development (1988-1997), having UNESCO as coordinator. In the time horizon of this decade the United Nations and UNESCO have set four basic goals: the recognition of the cultural dimension of the development, the confirmation of the role and the importance of the cultural specificities, the examination regarding the participation of the citizens in the cultural life and the promotion of the international cultural cooperation [11]. [12]

A part of the work in this decade, dealt with research, the implementation of experimental projects and the planning of appropriate methods regarding the promotion of cultural values. Another part dealt with the sensitization of people that make decisions and of the leaders of the world for the importance the incorporation of cultural values have in the developmental strategies

For this reason, UNESCO, in cooperation with the United Nations, founded in 1992 the “Global Committee for the Civilization and Development (Our Creative Diversity)” This Committee has been in charge to prepare the first global report that highlights the close tights between civilization and development and to shape national, cultural, and developmental strategic methods of the 21st century [5].

Civilization, therefore, is being at the centre of the contemporary concern of the post-industrial society and must adapt to the total of the changes that synthesize the locations all over the world. The last years, cultural actions have gained a greater significance as an element of the strategies for the financial and natural revitalization in many west-European countries.

Given the fact that we live in the era of globalization of markets and economies and of the society of media, a basic condition for the complete development of the nations is the preservation and the highlighting of their special cultural character. For this reason, we could say that the civilization is the most basic element of the social status of developed countries [8].In addition, a cultural product is treatable in many ways as a tool of financial consistency and as a factor of the promotion and the international penetration in other civilizations and is being recognized as the creator of added value and occupation, as well as an effective tool for the reduction of social exclusion. The significant changes that have taken place during the last years in the way people live, both in Europe and generally in developed countries, create positive future perspectives in the sector of civilization.

In a European context, in addition to the completion of the historical course of the European Union, towards the Financial and Monetary Union, the demands of the new era started to become apparent. In this context, the balanced cultural development and the equal access chances in cultural goods constitutes one of the founding conditions, upon which the social, financial and political cohesion of the European Union can be supported.

This stance is also obvious both in the article 128 of the Treaty of Maastricht (1992) and the Treaty of Amsterdam (1997), that lightly differentiates and fortifies in article 151 the institutional treatment of civilization and cultural policy. The regulatory context of both treaties contributes in the development of the civilizations of states and respects the national and regional diversity, whereas in addition it promotes the common European cultural heritage [5].

The aforementioned estimations gain special importance in the era of the social media. Social media constitute a huge challenge for the introduction of several nations in the digital era. The project “Society of Information” constitutes a part of the action plan e-Europe that was drafted by the European Commission on December 1999 and had as its primary goal to create a digitally literate Europe which will be based on entrepreneurial education whereas at the same time it will be reducing social exclusion.

In the context of the tendencies and the challenges that characterize this era, cultural heritage has a crucial role in the international social arena. Today, there exist all the conditions for the implementation of a new stance regarding cultural actions, which is capable of responding, simultaneously, to the contemporary challenges and expectations of citizens, to contribute in the formulation of the balance between globalization and the respect of cultural diversity and to lead in the preservation of cultural identity of people [7].

2. The financial crisis, the sensitization of citizens, the weakness of states and other parameters that enhance the tendency.

Historical cities in all European countries and regions of the world, each one has its own special cultural heritage which constitutes a valuable treasure that does not only in these countries and nations but in the whole humanity. Due to the historical changes that have taken place under the influence of human activities, among others, a large number of cultural goods have had the impact or either time or damages because of human intervention and need protection in their grand majority.

Human experiences that have been deeply enriched gradually for a series of centuries can be located in what is called cultural heritage. It is not possible to solve today’s problems or to put a solid and viable foundation for tomorrow with access to any kind of articulate, reliable and authentic data, documents. Happenings and proofs of the past. Any kind of past event that is being destroyed should be considered a loss of a great value. This fact puts in the shoulders of humanity a great carriage of responsibility regarding dealing with the cultural and natural heritage as a treasure and as a limitless source of information and presupposes that the indicative way of reading, interpretation secure and transmission of this heritage should be passed to the next generations [5]

Under the threat of time, natural disasters human impacts, stealing, illegal transportation etc, the transmission of cultural to the next generations is uncertain. As a consequence, the protection and safeguarding of the cultural heritage for the future generations imposes an ethical approach, supported by a series of regulatory acts that will have as their core the collective responsibility [6].

The sensitization of citizens, especially today, derives from numerous issues of philosophical, political and technical nature that are being posed as far as the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage is concerned. One of these is the issues that derive in a legal and political framework. In general, safeguarding is a top priority area of the public sector. Therefore, the decisions that are being made should have as target the benefit of the citizens and the society. The acceptance of a number of regulations and settings are necessary for the protection of the intangible cultural heritage from private interests. These regulations, should constitute an object of meticulous discussion and to be approved in a concessional basis In the majority of nations, legal subjects are not enough, for instance, in order to oblige the private owners of cultural and historical goods to make the necessary investments and interventions for the protection of their property. Most of the times, it is not quite clear what is it exactly that the state should do in case private owners do not realize the necessity of measure taking. In this sector, it is obvious that international cooperation is crucial, other than the attempts that are being made by governments by themselves [6].

It is also obvious, that in the majority of the case, especially in local and regional level, the most important obstacle on which preservation projects impact, is the lack of funding. Despite the fact that the sources that there exist from the governments, have been raised in comparison to the previous years, there still exist beg needs and lacks. This phenomenon is manly linked to the greater realization regarding the need of protection and safeguarding in local level. As a consequence of this realization, more preservation projects are being taken in charge, which require more funds. The demand is rising much faster than the available funds that the public sector gives for the safeguarding of cultural goods [8].

Moreover, despite the great realization regarding the need for safeguarding the cultural heritage, there still exist important issues in an organizational level, both in the private and the public sector. The responsibilities that are being related to with planning activities are generally dispersed between several institutions among which there are serious problems of communication and cooperation.

It seems, from the aforementioned, that the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage constitutes a difficult and complex procedure. The preservation of the balance between use and safeguarding as well as between public and private interests is not an easy case. The preservation, the protection and the functional use of the intangible cultural goods require a meticulous, multi-sectoral and coordinated approach.

Governments are not in position to achieve these goals by themselves. Towards this purpose, the contribution of governments, as well as private, community and nongovernmental organizations’ is considered crucial and vital.

The coordination, among others, with the help of networks and enterprise relations between governments, private sector and organizations, contributes in the strengthening of strategies and actions. Local and regional authorities, which are familiar with this issue better than anyone, should be supported by rules, laws, principles and regulations.

It is necessary to use financial means of a wider context, as well as means for exclusive use, and especially in these occasions, whereas the international cooperation in the form of for instance seminars, networks, conferences and workshops ought to be encouraged. Moreover, it would be crucial to examine the existent legal framework and regulations revolving around the safeguarding of the cultural heritage in several countries.


Taking into account that destruction and dispersal of heritage are responsible for the most far-reaching and long-lasting consequences to the understanding of humanity’s past, the cohesion of today’s society and the construction of the future, the scale of the international illicit art market is alarming. Looting, illegal excavations and theft from archaeological sites, repositories and museums are among the most vicious forms of heritage destruction and call for a reaction in order to protect and preserve what is in danger [6].

UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in Case of Illicit Appropriation provides a forum for requests of restitution by source countries and for the required mediation procedure. However, the restitution discourse takes place in an environment where strongly opposed views have to be accommodated by compromise, thus rendering it highly complicated [3].

Analyzing the obligation to restitute cultural property in the case of illegal appropriation according to international law, the dilemma is encountered when objects are granted immunity from seizure. With the purpose of making exhibitions possible through granting immunity from seizure in order to minimize the risk of legal action, how does this reconcile with claims of restitution? The complications in this contradictory situation lie in the existing legal ambiguity and its defining legal aspects  [4].

A number of enlisted sites, mainly natural sites in areas connected to the livelihood of indigenous populations, are recognized for values that do not reflect the indigenous peoples’ own understanding of their territory and culture. This fact testifies to the importance of the issue and the need for a change in attitude towards it. The exclusion of the local inhabitants of a site and their cultural patrimony leaves out an important part of the site’s significance. Disconnecting these two components creates a great loss and renders both the site and the population weaker. The site loses part of its value and the people lose their land and source of livelihood and resource for cultural continuation [2]

The impact of warfare on the preservation of heritage further proves the political dimensions of heritage. As material heritage is a perishable public good, states and nations have a compelling responsibility for preserving it. However, civil wars and political upheavals occur, controls break down, vast areas are threatened by the hostilities, and they become looting fields or treated as enemy territory with strong identity connotations which needs to be destroyed. Throughout the ages the spoils of war have mainly been the cultural heritage of the conquered. In this case heritage, as a source of collective identity, becomes a target in the heat of a conflict [1]



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  • Athanasios Vlitas is from the historic city of Sparta in Greece and currently lives and works in Izmir, Turkey. He’s a highly motivated professional who has traveled to many cities for academics like Dublin, London, Stockholm and now Izmir. He also has a varied academic background in Philosophy, History, Law and Heritage. He is interested in European history and is also researching on it. He also likes to volunteer for cultural institutions and NGOs, like teaching Modern Greek to Refugees. He has a humanist approach and his life goal is to be an “interpreter” between the native people and the “newcomers”, namely the refugees and the immigrants.

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