Ljubljana Conference – Rehabilitating our Common Heritage

Ljubljana , 

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Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

History never comes with a blank sheet. It tells the story of you and me. Who we were, who we are today, and where we should go. It tells the story of our heritage.

Heritage is simply part of our cultural DNA.

This year the world is remembering the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. This was a symbol that a century filled with so much conflict and tragedy could end with new hope for humanity. And perhaps even more importantly, the fall of the Wall symbolised that the journey towards a genuinely united Europe could finally begin.

The grand question of Max Weber, the German sociologist was: Why Europe?

The answer to that is that Europe is an opportunity to forge a common identity, based on democracy, human rights and the rule of law. This European identity does not come at the expense of our national or individual identity. To the contrary. It gives us the strength to protect and promote national cultural heritage and to develop a larger European community. It gives us pride at home, and strength abroad.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am truly honoured to be in the historic and beautiful capital of Slovenia on the occasion of the Ljubljana Conference on Rehabilitating our Common Heritage.

The operative word in the title is "common". This exercise is about common heritage, common interests, common sense and common future.

It has been said that patience will achieve more than our force.

Here in Ljubljana we can conclude that patience, hard work, co-operation and financial support through a joint action of the Council of Europe and the European Commission have helped to restore 177 heritage sites and buildings, eroded by time or destroyed by force, throughout the territory of the nine participants in the Regional Programme for Cultural and Natural heritage.
The project in South East Europe is the most comprehensive and far-reaching one ever carried out by the Council of Europe in the field of heritage, in terms of duration, the scale of resources invested, the number of countries involved in a regional approach.

It also offers an exemplary case of successful co-operation with the European Union.

In the past, Europe has witnessed, and is still witnessing, threats to the protection of cultural expression, which includes not only historic buildings, sites and monuments, but also language, religion and social practices.

During the turbulent recent history in the region of South East Europe we have seen that the cultural history and values of a community have been a systematic target of aggression, destroying not only individuals, but also every physical evidence of their presence, of their culture, of their history, of their identity.

The Ljubljana Conference puts this destructive process into reverse. It offers an opportunity to encourage the promotion of heritage as a major component of reconciliation and regional development.

The Regional Programme for Cultural and Natural Heritage has been an innovative and challenging experience for South East Europe.

The dynamics created by the Regional Programme should continue to grow beyond co-operation with the Council of Europe and the European Commission, as part of a process that will lead to an even greater involvement and responsibility of the countries.

What is happening in South East Europe inspires and helps other European regions to celebrate, protect and revitalise Europe's common heritage and its important link with the region's cultural, social and economic development.

For me, this project is an example of the Council of Europe at its best. Let me explain.

The Council of Europe is a political organisation, which like so many other organisations, produces many papers and organises many meetings. We have to. That's the way politics work.

But all these papers and all such meetings are only meaningful if they end with concrete results which have a real meaning for real people. Results they can see, touch, feel and from which they can benefit. This is my experience as a politician with thirty years' experience, and this is my imperative as the Secretary General of the Council of Europe.

The Ljubljana Process is an example of such a political process with tangible results.

Dear participants,

The Statute of the Council of Europe says that the aim of the organisation is to achieve greater unity between its members for the purpose of safeguarding and realising the ideals and principles which are their common heritage and facilitating their economic and social progress.

This is what the countries in the region of South-Eastern Europe have been doing through this very project. They have set an example which should, and will inspire others to follow.

Allow me to use this opportunity to thank the Slovenian Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe for hosting this conference and for being such a steadfast and purposeful partner throughout their Chairmanship. They too have set a model which should inspire future chairmanships.

I should also like to thank the President of the Republic, Danilo Türk, not only for his support to this conference but for the time and attention devoted to the Council of Europe during the time of the Slovenian Chairmanship. I certainly hope that this attention and support will continue also in the future.

But let me conclude.

The British politician and philosopher, Edmund Burke is quoted for having said that "A disposition to preserve, and an ability to improve, taken together, would be my standard of a statesman".

Now, Burke lived in the 18th century; I am sure that if he was around today, he would have said "statesperson".

But be it as it may, here in Ljubljana I see many statespersons of the kind Burke had in mind.

Thank you very much.