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Gates Cambridge Annual Lecture: Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO (2...

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Palmerston Room

St John's College

Cambridge

CB2 1TP

United Kingdom

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Why Heritage Matters?

Protecting World Heritage is one of the most positive, visionary and transformative ideas that emerged in the last century. This is the idea that heritage belonging to different cultures may represent “outstanding universal value” and should be protected by international law, embodied in the World Heritage Convention. This is the idea that humanity stands united in all its diversity around shared values; that all cultures are different but that there is no pure culture. World Heritage shows how different cultures have influenced each other over the centuries so that today they all represent the diversity of humanity.

Cultural heritage is our bridge from the past to the future. Culture and heritage are not about bricks and stones - they are about identities and belonging. They carry values from the past that are important for societies today and tomorrow. Heritage is the way we understand the world and the means by which we shape it.

Cultural heritage is our most democratic resource and every time it is destroyed, a precious link with our past, our history and our identity disappears.

Today, heritage is at the frontline of “modern” conflicts, and is under attack by extremists in Mali, Syria and Iraq, with the aim of erasing histories and identities. Bamiyan Buddha’s, Palmyra, the mausoleums of Timbuktu bear the scars of deliberate and barbaric attacks. Looting of sites and illicit trafficking of antiquities deplete people and communities of their identities.


Protection of cultural heritage is vital for reconciliation, social transformation and part and parcel of efforts to safeguard peace. It becomes an important part of security and humanitarian response in crisis situations. The adoption of the landmark UN Security Council Resolution 2347 in March 2017 was not only a response to the destruction and looting of heritage sites, but set a firm link between peace and security on the one hand, and preservation of humanity’s hetitage on the other.

This is the meaning of the 1972 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the World’s Cultural and Natural Heritage, based on the respect and recognition of the “outstanding universal value” of monuments, sites, temples, historic cities and landscapes that embrace all the diversity of humanity. The World Heritage list, with its 1092 sites, is an open book of humanity’s history of diversity, of creativity, of aesthetics and of imagination.

There are many challenges to the World Heritage preservation today:

Climate change;

Uncontrolled urbanization;

Unsustainable tourism;

Lack of capacity, knowledge and financial resources;

Conflict, wars and deliberate destruction;

Illicit trafficking of antiquities, illicit poaching and logging;

Earthquakes, inundations and other natural disasters;

In a globalized, interconnected and rapidly changing world, heritage protection is as meaningful as never before.

About the Speaker

Irina Bokova, born on 12 July 1952 in Sofia (Bulgaria), has been working for two terms as the Director-General of UNESCO (2009 to 2017). She is the first woman and the first Eastern European to lead the Organization. Having graduated from Moscow State Institute of International Relations, Irina Bokova was a Fellow at the University of Maryland, Washington, and followed an executive program at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. She began her career at the United Nations Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs o Bulgaria. She was elected twice Member of Parliament and served as Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Government's first Secretary for European affairs.

Before being elected as Director General of UNESCO, from 2005 to 2009 Irina Bokova was Ambassador of Bulgaria to France, Monaco and UNESCO and Personal Representative of the President of the Republic of Bulgaria to the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie. As Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova was actively engaged in the UN efforts to adopt Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, including quality education for all, gender equality, the protection of the world’s cultural heritage. She actively promotes culture as a driver for development, along with science and innovation.

Irina Bokova was on the Forbes List of the world's most influential women for 2016. She has received state distinctions from more than 40 countries across the world and is Doctor honoris causa of leading universities.

Currently, she is a Member of the Board of Ban Ki Moon Centre for Global Citizens, Honorary Dean of the Humanitas College and Honorary Professor of Peace Studies, of Kyung-Hee University Seoul, Member of the Concordia Leadership Council, New York, Member of the Strategic Committee of the Paris School of International Affairs /PSIA/, Member of Leaders For Peace, NGO chaired by Former PM of France, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, Chair of the International Advisory Council of the Beijing Hermirage Art Foundation, Beijing.
In addition to her mother tongue, she speaks English, French, Spanish and Russian.


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Palmerston Room

St John's College

Cambridge

CB2 1TP

United Kingdom

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