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The Politics of Development and Cultural Heritage


The politics of development presents a most elusive form of deliberation in society about future possibilities to resolve current problems like unemployment, social inequality, environmental deteriorations and international tensions. If not enough, the debate about economic development has become a conflict between believers of the welfare state in a modern version and those wishing to take full advantage of the global economy. Not clear to where such a debate and conflict shall take society, it shows less dynamic and more confusion when it comes to clarifying both the agenda and what outcomes have been attained so far by reducing development to economic growth alone.

Economic growth is not merely a percentage point in annual increases when compared with previous levels of productivity, but includes an exponential ratio comparing high income rises in China with those in the United States or Europe. A four or five percent growth rate of the economy can mean up to 35 to 45% income increases in terms of wealth, purchasing power or value of the very rich and most powerful groups of societies. There are individuals like Bill Gates but also foundations and more so investment firms alongside many other kinds of organizations which judge growth rates and successes in terms of these exponential increases. Thus it is not merely a matter of what happens as economic average where income equals to purchasing power depends on price of products and rate of inflation, but what those wealthy ones see as ‘power’ of their money and wealth in relation to others. What counts is then what happens to the relative and comparative term of power at the top level of the global society.

One person who draws attention to problems of globalization but out of a perspective of economic history is Louis Baeck who chides often enough Western economists, policy makers and intellectuals in general for not seeing, for instance, how the Islamic world sees globalization quite differently. Given the pro Western, equally egocentric stance it is hardly surprising to Louis Baeck that the European Union has not been able to resolve the two key problems: unemployment and growth rate of the economy. The failure he would attribute to a non-imaginary, indeed very bureaucratic process not leaving any room for innovation and greater efficiency when it comes to use of resources. There is this ‘arrogance’ of Western power to which the dependency upon wars to secure resources adds a special dimension of dependency that globalization is misunderstood as ‘global war against terror’.

From both a historical and an economic perspective, Louis Baeck sees development as follows:
I see development not so much as a process than as a project, contingently shaped by the actors and ideologies of succeeding historical blocs, each having their own conditions of possibility. The political emancipation of colonies, catalyzed by two rival superpowers of the early post-war period, cannot be compared to the current context of globalization under the aegis of western core actors. And the neo-liberal creed of today is an ideological sea change in comparison with the static mentality nurtured by former charismatic nation builders.” [1]

To be sure, development in the global age has become more than ever before a built in system linked to ‘projects’ or more specifically to such ‘project development’ that positive interactions between governments and private businesses are foreseeable in near future and are expected to continue as such if incomes rise and institutional stability is guaranteed by all sorts of safeguards, including copy rights, legal framework, anti corruption drives and accountabilities. It does include the civil society insofar as NGOs do play a role in most of the development schemes even it means a new form of corruption not easily identified since covered by humanitarian motives.

Globalization is itself such an elusive term that it may help to be reminded by Louis Baeck what are the principles of but also objections to such an approach to economy and growth: “In the 1990s globalization became the vogue-word. The inherent logic of globalization is the compressing of historical time and the homogenization of geographical and cultural space. Its drive towards homogenization and standardization maximizes profit accumulation in the centre of the system; but it also disturbs local initiatives and hurts indigenous cultures. Cultural leaders in other parts of the world perceive globalization as the flagship of westernization. Furthermore, its neo-liberal inspiration with emphasis on marketisation, produces besides positive effects, asymmetric results: between the countries of the centre and the periphery, between national and transnational agents and agencies, between powerful winners and marginalized losers who remain without voice or entitlements. Up to now, the extant institutions of global governance are unable to deliver economic and financial stability and still less social justice. Reform of their organization and functioning is needed and urgent.” [2]

What then are the reasons for the setting of the wrong priorities in the name of development or even economic growth?

UNESCO, world heritage sites and the global agenda

Destruction of cultural and natural heritage

Analysis of destruction

Positive example: Restoration efforts of the Boyanna Church used computer simulation techniques to restore the icons and thereby gave a new access to stories told by those icons in that Church.

Boyanna Church outside Sofia

Heritage and Transformation

How then is it possible to protect cultural and natural heritage?

What gives people a sense of 'civic pride’ in cultural heritage?

Two key principles seem to link cultural heritage and development to this process of valorization by which protection and promotion become interrelated once not only supported, but sustained by official policy. For that to happen two key factors are of importance:

- it seems important to go beyond national heritage so as to overcome artificial limitations denying accessibility of mankind to all cultural heritages (the principle of the British Museum)

- there has to be taken an integrated approach at city level with much work and deliberations needed before different discourses can utilitze cultural heritage as factor of development without thereby destroying traces and evidences of the past.

A practical example: Krakow seeking a new relationship between heritage and development

Krakow as seen through roof window of the International Cultural Centre

"Heritage, which is an asset that is common property, is today falling victim to private interests; the state is demonstrating surprising weakness in its function of guardian of common good (Cracow, for instance, the symbol of Polish piety towards heritage, is today a city without a plan, its heritage is being subjected to virtually uncontrolled commercialisation, and its 'beauty' to officially sanctioned defacement." (6)

To find a new path of development certain things have to be recognized, valorized and protected by new measures. In Krakow this means perceiving that:

Cultural heritage as social capital: the role of NGOs and citizens protecting sites

Challenges and need for cultural knowledge - how to shape the global agenda

Heritage is bought by the rich – though sometimes the rich might be the government. This process in the built heritage sector is known as gentrification, but is well known in all sectors. But there is a similar process by which those with cultural capital (academics, curators etc.) succeed in establishing intellectual hegemony over whole areas of heritage. In other words, academics have a clear agenda in their use of the heritage that is not that of other groups. Interpretation can be viewed as the experts’ attempt to establish this intellectual control.” [11]

Reinforcement of irrational attitudes can be linked to the absence of any cultural heritage. Once claims of the present not only as time concept are made but as a generation in charge of things no longer wishes to be reminded about the past nor feels any sense of responsibility as outcome of that past, then the absence of such truth elements capable of contradicting bad generalizations would make possible upholding ideological claims even if absurd. As if a failure of the mind, it seems nothing convinces anymore but the irrational bent to things.

If people are to know something as being valid, then cultural heritage has to be valorized by all. Only then can it be a source of such value consensus that allows cultural mediation between past, present and future.

Once cultural heritage is reduced to ‘national’, it can be misused to tell only the national narrative and to legitimize how resources are used currently to maintain power. That includes claim to land on the basis of belonging to the royal family. Linked to that are the usual traps set if false claims about what role certain lineages play in that national narrative are upheld as a fiction. Once more powerful than any workable reality based on the equality of every individual, social injustice is perpetuated over time. For it leads to granting and accepting more Rights to acquisition and ownership of resources and property by heritage lineage than what is deemed necessary by democratic rule. The latter can only work if there are no privileged few gaining more power than the majority of people. As reform showed in Ancient Greece the power of the powerful has to be broken in time to make possible a balance of power made possible between all citizens. One obvious conclusion to be drawn out of such observation is to study still further how false claims to power are based on arguments misusing cultural heritage for the sole purpose to uphold such a claim. That is the political aspect behind use of cultural heritage which has many concerned on how especially in a Europe seeking integration can accommodate the various national narratives without binding identity seeking processes to such historical clout.

Here the freedom of interpretations of cultural heritage is needed from national claims before linkage to humanity can become an articulated identity based on common cultural heritage accessible to all. The realization of a common European identity will depend on a critical reconstructions of the past so that cultural heritage does not to serve ideologies but keeps alive ‘wonder’ (as main philosophical category of experience) about man’s life on earth. Always partial answers given to these open questions should not be taken as standing for the whole truth of humanity. It all depends on not only how stories are told. Freedom of interpretation means the ability to question any form of determination in terms of identity and outcomes of history. For this reason Ernst Bloch added the ‘heritage of these times’ as the outcome of how this present time is lived while realizing what tension there exists to both the past and the future. At any time in history, the present being lived is something not yet fully know as of yet but it has the potential to become something and like any art work its full value will only be realized in future.

In that sense, cultural heritage being interpreted by museums and stories told is an integral part of an ongoing historical introspection. In cultural terms it is a part of ongoing reflections by mankind with regards to its ‘memories of the future’. The two aspects make up a common practice linking informal and formal learning processes about how the institutional set-up of society serves the purpose of ensuring a continuity of life of not only the individual, but of society and its institutions. This means cultural heritage is something to be perceived as learning from how societies used to organize themselves in the past and out of which something of ‘vital interest’ can be learned for an ongoing present about the shape the destiny for the future. By the same token, it means learning process as receptivity of past experiences cannot be reduced to mere necessity since vital needs go beyond such limited sets of categories and invoke other interests with very different sets of categories due to an ‘elan vital’ being a constituting element of a present very much alive and interested in what took place in the recent as much as in the ancient past.

If understanding cultural heritage presupposes the working through of memories of the past as passed on by many stories in order to become, then such a conscious effort to come to terms with the history of man has nothing to do with cults based on legends e.g. the Nazis using Teutonic monuments to revitalize the Germanic mythology as a kind of mystic identity bondage.

Without the freedom to experience oneself as human being, people will loose their social orientation and due to lack of recognition their desire for a fulfilled life. Instead they reduce their goals in the way of cheap imitation only what the rich and powerful enjoy already, namely social status and the privileges which go with them. Rather than practicing solidarity and sharing with others, they will be driven by envy and bitterness. They know that under normal circumstances they will never be able to attain that same status. Ineuqality appears to be ingrained nor can they really cope with the games being played within every kind and form of desire even if it is a mere yearning to possess something but once obtained discarded as quickly as seized upon. Unfortunately the common base will be for many of them only resentment and regret, out of which grows the fear to be not merely weak if not in coalition with the stronger ones and protected by a strong state but to be in reality 'radical loosers' (12). That leaves them then without any cultural heritage basis of their own and therefore without memory based on self esteem.


1. Louis Baeck (2002) The Saga of Development and Globalization, p.43 - 44



2. op. cit.,The Saga of Development and Globalization, p. 2

3. Ryszard Kapuscinski,(2000) Sowjetische Streifzuege: Imperium (Soviet step visits: Imperium) Frankfurt a. Main: Eichborn Verlag

4. Jacek Purchla (2005), Heritage and Transformation, Krakow: International Cultural Centre, p. 62

5. op.cit., p. 63

6. op.cit., p. 63

7. op.cit., p. 61

8. op.cit., p. 57

9. op.cit., p. 63

10. op.cit.,p. 60

11. Peter J. Howard, Turin, 4 - 5.2.2005

12. Hans Magnus Enzensberger (2006), Schreckens Maenner: Versuch ueber den radikalen Verlierer, Frankfurt a. Main: Suhrkamp.

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