Magazine article UNESCO Courier

The Heritage, Memory of the Future

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

The Heritage, Memory of the Future

Article excerpt

The fundamental dilemma facing all the world's countries, to varying degrees, is that of the need to safeguard the past while continuing to build the future, the need to balance the demands of development and culture. The international scope of the problems - the details of which have been brought to our attention in recent decades through the rapid growth of communications technology - gives added impetus to the prevention and education efforts tirelessly deployed by UNESCO, in co-operation with all its Member States. UNESCO's Constitution defines one of the Organization's principal tasks as being to "maintain, increase and diffuse knowledge by assuring the conservation and protection of the world's inheritance of books, works of art and monuments of history and science".

In the words of the Spanish scholar and writer Miguel de Unamuno, "Memory is the basis of the individual personality as tradition is the basis of the collective personality of a people. We live in memory and through memory, and our spiritual life is, in the last resort, nothing more than the effort of remembrance to persevere, to become hope, the effort of our past to become future".

Today our world needs to adopt a broader definition of the word heritage. As well as the physical heritage, the heritage of ideas, the scientific heritage and the genetic heritage - which UNESCO has also begun to preserve as the heritage of all humanity - are part of the ancient heritage that we must safeguard. But I should also like to stress the importance of the ethical heritage, the enormous relevance of a few central values, the universal principles which contain the infinite diversity of our sources of inspiration and can transform it into the unity that constitutes our strength and our hope for the future.

The task of preserving and enhancing the heritage of our ancestors extends far beyond the simple preservation of magnificent landscapes and sublime monuments. For the first time in the history of humanity, our awareness of the repercussions of our actions on the planet at large obliges us to ensure that they do not have irreversible consequences on this heritage. This criterion of irreversibility, of risk reaching a point of no return, creates a moral obligation for decision-makers to take steps now before it is too late to rectify trends that might otherwise lead to irreversible change. …

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