Cultural Heritage
and Cultural Policy
Cultural heritage is of great value to society. Its significance will probably keep growing in the 21st century. In the context of globalization heritage will be determining the choice of environment and the quality of life. We should consider it not only a powerful resource for spiritual survival but also an irreplaceable resource for sustained development. Therefore its preservation is deeply relevant to state interests and national security.
That is why in civilized countries government attitudes towards cultural heritage are a measure of political wisdom and foresight. Wise governments realize the primary importance of this resource and take steps to conserve and utilize it properly. Other governments, such as the former Taliban state, have destroyed some of the world's famous artefacts in the past. One of civilization's distinguishing features is the development of a policy of preserving and utilizing cultural heritage. Such a policy should include three obligatory objectives: identification of cultural values (if a nation is not confused about its own values!); physical conservation of heritage as a constantly endangered valuable; using heritage for the needs of modern life. The implementation of this policy requires the introduction of new laws, the regulation of a system of management, the provision of financial, human and material resources.
As the world enters the age of the information society, European cultural policies have followed new trends stemming from a new vision on cultural heritage and its ever growing role. The very notion of heritage is changing, as its definition encompasses an entire 'cultural environment' comprising tangible as well as intangible values; preservation activities are increasingly considered to be a collective social process; cultural heritage is considered to be a resource for development. This inevitably affects legislation, management and methods. Where do we fit in in this process?
1. In many European countries the legislation on cultural heritage was complemented, extended or totally changed in the spirit of the aforementioned trends. These countries are refining measures to guarantee the observation of laws, including even the expropriation of mismanaged privately owned cultural monuments (this measure was rejected by our legislation as being 'totalitarian', yet was included in the European Convention on Architectural Heritage). While the Bulgarian law is too outdated (dating back to 1969!), our politicians have been denying the absolute national priority of a new law on cultural heritage for twelve years. The state is unable to save the cultural artefacts from treasure-hunters and unauthorized development.
2. The policy for managing cultural heritage in the last years has acknowledged the necessity of deconcentration and decentralization of managing systems in order to be increasingly effective in covering the artefacts and the local partners in their preservation. There is more and more openness to dialogue, while the inaccessible haughty institutions are anachronistic in pretending to be omniscient against a background of general ignorance. As the Bulgarian system of management is highly centralized and concentrated, it is increasingly difficult to exercise state supervision on the 40 000 cultural monuments, especially with the chronic shortage of such basics as travelling expenses. Meanwhile local authorities are incompetent about cultural heritage is concerned and that makes them unreliable as management partners.
3. European policies for financing the preservation of cultural heritage have been exceptionally improved in the last few years. Generally this is a result of growing public financing, but there is something more important as well - the state is using all means of stimulation - tax concessions, VAT exemption for donations, percentages from tourism revenues, lottery profits, etc. Meanwhile Bulgaria is witnessing the following paradox: state funds for preservation are drastically diminishing (in 2002 they are expected to be 4 times less than last year, and about 200 times less than the financing from 15-20 years ago!) without any incentive for possible alternative donors!
4. In the last few years almost every European country has adopted a policy of 'integrated conservation', stipulated by two European conventions which Bulgaria also ratified. It is a matter of coordinating preservation, archaeological findings and urban/rural development. In Bulgaria these issues are highly controversial, as demonstrated by every newly discovered Thracian tomb or new operation in historical centers.
5. The effective utilization of cultural heritage, without risking its cultural value, is becoming a major focus of European policies, especially in relation to cultural tourism. The latter is drastically underdeveloped; 'culture' and 'tourism' are not effectively related; what is more, the Nessebar example shows how heritage can be compromised by a certain kind of 'cultural' tourism. 6. European cultural policies postulate partnership between the state and non-governmental organizations in the area of cultural heritage. The Council of Europe held an international conference (Oslo, 2000) and adopted a Declaration (Portoroge, 2001) for the unique role of non-governmental organizations in the preservation of cultural heritage. In Bulgaria a telling example of this tendency is the National Committee of ICOMOS. The international support it provides for the preservation of Bulgarian cultural monuments exceeds state financing in this area. Yet the Bulgarian state still cannot overcome its suspicion towards such partners (especially if they dare act as a corrective) and is usually indifferent to their survival.
Even if we stop here, we have to conclude that our state cultural policies in the last years has been (and still are!) inadequate to the exceptional historical resource of Bulgarian culture. Obviously, in the difficult period of transition the state is not fully aware of the economic as well as spiritual value of this resource. If cultural politics in this area are not completely reconsidered, this resource will inevitably and irrevocably deteriorate. Even if we do not care about ourselves, future generations will not forgive us for depriving them of confidence and chances for development.

Prof. Dr. Arch. Todor Krastev

Todor Krastev Ph.D. is a professor of Architecture at the University od Architecture, Sofia. He is a prominent specialist in preservation of heritage. For many years now he is the director of the National Institute of Cultural Monuments. He is the chair of ICOMOS, Bulgaria.