'Culture is the identity card of one's people'‎ declares Prime Minister Matteo Renzi to Culture Ministers gathered at EXPO MILAN 2015

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©Corriere Della Sera

On 31 July, 2015 the Director-General, Irina Bokova, participated in the International Conference of Ministers of Culture on the theme "Culture as a Tool to Improve Dialogue among Peoples" at the invitation of the Italian Minister of Cultural Heritage, Activities and Tourism, Mr Dario Franceschini, in the context of the EXPO MILAN 2015, entitled "Food for the Planet - Energy for Life".

The International Conference gathered 82 Ministers and Vice-Ministers of Culture of participating countries in EXPO MILAN. 

The Conference was also attended by the UN World Tourism Organization, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, and ICCROM‎.‎

"Culture is what makes us more human,"  declared Prime Minister Renzi, calling on the sense of responsibility of attending Ministers to join forces for recognition of the pivotal role of culture for sustainable development. 

"Cultural heritage belongs to all and we can only protect it if we work together," stated UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, sharing with the Ministers in attendance UNESCO's UNITE 4 HERITAGE social media campaign to engage primarily youth around the world to stand against the destruction of cultural heritage. 

"Culture is our ID card not for the past but because we care for our future,"pursued Prime Minister Renzi, noting, however, there can be no isolated response to the conservation of cultural heritage as humanity needs to stand united for its protection as an essential condition for its future. 

Ministers stressed the need to enhance mechanisms for youth mobility in order to enhance mutual understanding, and to strengthen the knowledge exchanges among cultures, thereby building new forms of 'cultural diplomacy'. 

Ministers attending voiced unanimously their concern over the destruction of cultural heritage in many parts of the world, and strongly condemned all forms of extremism aiming at annihilating cultural identity and cultural expressions, and at persecuting ethnic and religious communities.‎"Culture, in its manifold expressions is an element of wealth and not of division," stressed Italian Minister of Cullture, Dario Franceschini.‎‎

Recalling UNESCO's tireless efforts to counter the destruction of cultural heritage in the context of armed conflicts, Irina Bokova stated "attacks on culture are war crimes; it is no longer a cultural issue but a security imperative; all of this is part of the same tragedy which I call 'cultural cleansing'."

The Director-General also informed the Ministers of UNESCO's advocacy leading to the inclusion of cultural heritage protection in peacebuilding missions in Mali. 

In a passionate plea, Prime Minister Renzi underscored that "protecting culture is defending peace", further noting that "culture is not just an oasis of happiness and aesthetics, it is a space for critical thinking, an instrument to build bridges and an instrument for social and economic development". 

‎A number of Ministers also commended Italy for the theme of the EXPO Food for the Planet - Energy for Life, stressing the profound and ancestral link between food and culture, both forming part of the DNA of communities and people. ‎

Conference interventions were strongly marked by numerous statements against the destruction of cultural heritage in countries witnessing armed conflicts and in countries having suffered from natural disasters.‎ 

All Ministers joined voices to state that countries must fight against the risk of harmonisation, emphasising that cultural diversity is key to creativity and innovation. 

‎The Minister of Culture of Senegal stated his pride at his country's leadership in heritage conservation and protection  in the African region ‎and strongly condemned all the forces of extremism that led to the destructions of cultural heritage in Mali. 

Ministers of Culture of Nepal and Malaysia stressed the 'fundamental social function' of cultural heritage and its 'boundless power to unite people', referring to the wealth and diversity of of their intangible cultural heritage and living cultural expressions. 

The Culture Minister of Greece stressed the need to build collaboration among different levels of governance in order to ensure the development of adequate measures that need to be embedded in national policies for the long-term protection, safeguarding and promotion of culture in all its forms.‎ 

Many speakers emphasised the importance of education calling on UNESCO to devise strategies to embed teaching about cultural heritage and arts education into curricula, as well as the appreciation of cultural diversity for future generations -- as 'the seeds for peaceful and harmonious coexistence among different cultures'.  

In this spirit, the Culture Minister of Cuba underscored   his country's long-standing and determined efforts at 'democratising culture', in order to make it more accessible to each and everyone, thereby developing better knowledge about history and heritage.  

The Ministers of Latvia, Poland, Croatia, and Slovenia stressed the importance of arts education and the mobility of artists and youth in general, in order to enhance cultural diplomacy and intercultural dialogue. 

Ministers all emphasized their efforts in their respective countries to promote appreciation and understanding of the links between cultural heritage and identity amongst youth. They shared examples of  specific policies and strategies for the promotion of culture through various means, notably through the use of new technologies, improving access to culture and the arts through education and social inclusion programmes.‎

"Protecting cultural heritage is building bridges and dialogue among cultures," concluded Irina Bokova. 

‎During her visit, the Director-General also visited the UN Pavillon at EXPO MILAN 2015 under the theme The Zero Hunger Challenge - United for a Sustainable World.