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Civil society and cultural heritage in the Mediterranean: EH 4 Regional Conference

(24-25 February 2010, Palermo, Italy)
The active involvement of civil society, the best way to safeguard Mediterranean heritage and create opportunities for human and economic development

The aim of the conference, organised within Euromed Heritage 4 in collaboration with “CERISDI-Centro Ricerche e Studi Direzionali” of Palermo, was to provide a clearer understanding of the relationships that engage public sector/policies/education/civil society and that operate at various levels with complex interests at stake.

Some 100 actors from civil society entities, national authorities and professionals in the field of cultural heritage, youth, education and tourism gathered to discuss on how best to mobilise civil society around cultural heritage actions, a theme which is central to the Euromed Heritage 4 programme that aims at raising people’s awareness of their cultural heritage and their appropriation of it through active participation.

The conference focused on specific avenues where civil society plays (or could play) a key role in the preservation of cultural heritage and the state-of-the-art, particularly where it concerns Mediterranean Partner countries, and provided practical examples from the region of good practice and movements in mobilising civil society for the benefit of cultural heritage development.

Practical approaches to civil society participation were presented and discussed during plenary sessions and workshop groups. The role of ‘civil society’, together with governments and decision makers, as custodians of the “common good” was underlined, and its contribution to the development of cultural heritage highlighted within a perspective of sustainability at the social, economic and environmental levels. Also, the relationships between civil society and cultural programmes, where the one motors the processes generated by the other, were discussed.

In the workshop on tourism, the issue was raised as to whether integrated development programmes centred on cultural heritage assets were just a wishful thinking and rather misleading, or cultural heritage could really contribute to integrated development (without being the centre of such a process). The record of tourism in this area being mixed, because it is improperly understood and poorly implemented, a redefinition of ‘integrated development’, taking into consideration local communities, economic and market imperatives and the fragility of cultural heritage, was suggested.

For the closing of the conference, a participative session was designed in the light of new research on conference organisation and on large group events where innovative methods of participation are implemented. The session provided a framework for collective discussions where the closing remarks were delivered together by all participants.

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