The preservation of historically important monuments is not just a way to attract tourists. Cultural heritage can also be a powerful force for reconciliation and avoiding conflicts. Cultural Heritage without Borders is therefore implementing a project to increase the awareness of cultural heritage among Kosovo's residents and involve them in the process to preserve it.
Kosovo has a longstanding multicultural and checkered history. However, the country's poor economy prevents renovation of monuments from becoming a top priority among central level and municipal budget items. The Swedish organisation Cultural Heritage without Borders (CHwB) has therefore launched a four-year programme to establish local forums in seven municipalities, with the aim to develop local heritage plans.
"We have a mixed history with influences from several cultures in our country. By presenting this richness better, we can also present ourselves, while promoting the country's tourism and economic development," says Nora Arapi, architect specialized in conservation of monuments, in Kosovo.
Nora Arapi has served as coordinator and CHwB's representative in the Local Cultural Heritage Forum established in the municipality of Rahovec. The forum is made up of 20 representatives from municipal governance, national ministries and civil society organisations, where minority groups and women from civil society have been encouraged to participate. They have jointly developed a Local Cultural Heritage Plan with suggestions of cultural and natural heritage sites that are important to preserve in order to contribute to social and economic development.
The most important thing about this programme has not been to finance the renovation of selected buildings, but the actual process of how the important monuments and sites are selected. The lack of funding is not the only obstacle when it comes to preserving the country's cultural heritage; the often poor dialogue between government agencies, municipalities and local residents also hampers cooperation.
The work of the forums can also contribute to a better understanding between the various ethnic groups, where the wounds of war are still fresh. This also reduces the risk of future conflicts, according to Nora Arapi:
"When international donors have previously provided support to renovate monuments, this has sometimes created negative feelings among the citizens, such as when the EU made contributions to restore Serbian Orthodox churches that were destroyed during the riots of 2004. The citizens’ commitment is improving now that the forum has had the opportunity to participate in the selection of buildings, and they include Albanian mosques as well as Serbian Orthodox Church sites," she says.
The Local Cultural Heritage Plans shall both address immediate needs and draw a longer-term vision for natural and cultural heritage in the municipality. When the Cultural Heritage Forum in Rahovec developed its plan, all community residents were invited to a meeting where they were asked to comment on the list and on what they considered the main priorities.
Old houses not popular residences
One challenge in this project has been the residents’ lack of understanding of the historical value of old buildings. Many people agree upon the importance of preserving churches and mosques, but there might not be the same interest in preserving the traditional 19th century buildings in stone and clay that are located around the country.
"Many people don’t want to stay in old outdated homes; they may not appreciate the carved beams of wood in the same way as I do. Part of my work has involved field visits and talking to people about the value of the buildings. If we can inspire one neighbourhood in transferring a couple of old houses into nice Bed & Breakfasts, that can create an understanding of how to use your cultural heritage to make money."
The programme with Local Heritage Forum has also involved study visits in neighbouring countries and in England. These have inspired the participants in how to apply ideas from e.g. Stonehenge in Rahovec.
As of today, about 33 per cent of all priorities derived from the Local Heritage Plans on the lists of the seven forums have begun to be implemented. Another positive outcome of the programme is that cultural heritage has become more important on the local political agendas.
"The mayors of these municipalities now have an officially approved document with a list of the cultural heritage that should be prioritized. Having this in hand makes it easier to discuss these issues or seek money from other donors. It can take a long time to agree on strategies in this country's municipalities; now we have helped to speed up that process while involving the citizens," says Nora Arapi.
About the Local Cultural Heritage Plans programme (LCHP)
The goal of the programme is to improve the situation for preserving natural and cultural heritage in Kosovo, to involve it in urban planning and increase the understanding of cultural heritage’s importance for economy, tourism, culture and local governance. The overall aim of the programme is to help strengthen local governments and civil society participation, and improve the cooperation between them, to revive the heritage and use it for local economic development.
Local Cultural Heritage Forums have been established in seven municipalities around Kosovo. The criteria when selecting municipalities have been that they should be small with a relatively unknown cultural heritage and have a population with different nationalities. The forums have normally consisted of 20 people. In Rahovec it included: seven representatives from the municipality, five from national ministries, (two from the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport, two from the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning and one from Ministry of Trade and Industry/Tourism Department), one from CHwB (Nora Arapi), five from civil society organisations (including young people and women) and two representatives from the international organisations GIZ (German federal aid enterprise) and UN-HABITAT, the two latter working in Rahovec.
Sida supports the programme in Kosovo 2012-2015 with 20 milion SEK.
The program is implemented by Cultural Heritage without Borders (CHwB). The Swedish organisation sees the preservation of cultural heritage in conflict and natural disaster-ridden areas as a force for reconciliation, social and economic development as well as strengthening of human rights. CHwB works mainly in Kosovo and the Balkans.
Examples of results achieved:
- The mayors of the seven municipalities have signed a MoU (Memorandum of Understanding ) together with two ministers and the head of CHwB, to highlight and preserve the local heritage in the municipalities.
- Each municipality has developed an officially authorized document with a list of the cultural heritage that should be prioritized in accordance with the forum's work. In total 241 local priorities have been identified. So far, approximately 33 percent of all projects highlighted in the lists have begun to be implemented.
- The municipalities will co-fund with 20 percent of the budget for implementation of some of the priorities derived from Local Heritage Plans.
- The participation in different regional activities organized by CHwB in Kosovo, contributes to increasing the regional cooperation regarding cultural heritage.