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Cultural heritage sustainability in theory and practice. A national, EU and UNESCO perspective

Originally from Serbia, Novi Sad, Jermina Stanojev first became curious about cultural heritage while visiting her father on his archeological excavations. With time, this curiosity progressed into a more consciously defined interest that, academically, led her to undertake an MSc in Architecture, with specialization in the field of cultural heritage. Jermina joined the Culture Unit of the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe, Venice (Italy), in June 2014 for a 6-month internship.

Tell us about yourself: What is your background, and why did you want to intern at UNESCO?

In professional terms, this same interest prompted me to look for work in this area, in a place where policies, programmes or initiatives can lead to the long-term integration of cultural heritage sites into the lives of local communities and foster sustainable development. With this in mind, I worked at the Provincial Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments in Serbia, where I gained experience in the valorization and assessment of cultural heritage and the evaluation of proposed cultural heritage projects.

During that time, I was able to grasp the challenges and shortcomings of the national public sector in the field of heritage protection. This knowledge has taken me in two new directions. I started working for the Museum of Vojvodina as an expert responsible for IPA (Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance) Cross-border Co-operation Programme Projects in the field of cultural heritage, implemented within the 2007-2013 EU financial framework. There, to some extent, I was able to build on my previous experience in terms of developing indicators and meeting them during the project’s implementation.  

In parallel to my professional involvement, I have carried on with my studies by undertaking a PhD at the Politecnico di Milano, Italy in the field of cultural heritage policies and recommendations (national, international, EU and UNESCO) dealing with planned conservation, value-led heritage management and complex systems in government for cultural heritage.

All these experiences have shaped my academic and professional choices and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to merge two sometimes very disconnected paths - practical experience and academic theory. In order to further my understanding of both and provide better results and feedback in future work, the questions broached by my PhD research are closely connected to my professional experience and vice versa, while my background and personal commitment have strengthened both types of involvement,  against the backdrop of South East Europe. 

What do you think you are gaining from your experience so far?

In merging professional experience and academic achievements, I came to see UNESCO’s role and contribution to the field of culture as best embodying my interests. I therefore went on to gain experience at the Commission of the Republic of Serbia for UNESCO where I was able to familiarize myself with the Organization’s work and the ways in which it bridges national policies, international recommendations and diplomacy. In this sense, I feel that the UNESCO Venice Office represents a logical step forward and an opportunity to understand more about how the Organization works internally and deals with issues of international cooperation at a regional level.

The experience at UNESCO Venice Office has allowed me to work with issues I find really intriguing, allowing me to enhance my multilayered background, cross-disciplinary skills and international experience by involving me in the efforts of the Culture Unit. I am currently concerned with different aspects of resource mobilization and fundraising: on one hand to strengthen national capacities and achieve development objectives through the effective implementation of Conventions, and on the other hand to protect, conserve, promote and transmit culture, heritage and history for dialogue and development. All this through the prism of sustainability, with different tools and on various levels – the European Union, national and international resources and funds, different kinds of partnerships. This activity has confirmed to me, once again, that shared legacy means common responsibility, which is what makes UNESCO’s role so invaluable.

What will happen after the internship? How will it influence your choices?

My experience up to now has allowed me a reasonably clear understanding of the area in which I would like to remain and develop professionally. My time at UNESCO has confirmed and broadened this understanding by introducing me to a number of missions and responsibilities in the heritage field. UNESCO has given me a chance to discover how I can apply my skills and capabilities and integrate practical and academic knowledge, national and international experiences into the broader approach of an international organization. My future choices will remain in the cultural heritage sector, but the internship definitely means that I will seek to move towards a role in international governance and diplomacy.