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UNESCO recognition fails to improve heritage conservation: cultural official

Three artists of ca tru - a complex form of sung poetry found in the north of Vietnam which was recognized by Unesco as an intangible cultural heritage - in a performance in Hanoi

UNESCO's recognition of Vietnam's cultural heritage should not be the end but a driving force for efforts to conserve it a task that has been neglected even at UNESCO-recognized sites, Ngo Duc Thinh, a member of the National Cultural Heritage Council tells Vietweek.

Don ca tai tu, or southern folk music, was recently recognized as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity by UNESCO. What do you think about its significance?

Ngo Duc Thinh: Besides don ca tai tu, seven other intangible cultural heritages of Vietnam have been recognized by UNESCO. There will be other heritages to be recognized in future. However, UNESCO's recognition of don ca tai tu is of great significance since it is the first southern heritage to be recognized. The seven others are mostly located in the north. The fact is that heritages can be found across the country, not just in the north. Thus, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and scientists had hoped for a southern heritage to be honored by UNESCO.

Don ca tai tu is very popular and enjoyed by a large number of people. The recognition is an important encouragement for Vietnam in its heritage conservation. It is an art that closely combines with traditional and scholarly styles. This is the special characteristic of the music.

There is an opinion that Vietnam seems too anxious to get UNESCO recognition for its heritage sites. What is your opinion?

Obviously, the recognition is an honor for Vietnam. But in my opinion, we have run after the recognition, regarding it as a target. The same situation could also be seen in some other countries.

In fact, UNESCO recognition for our heritage should not be the end, but a driving force for heritage conservation in modern society.

The biggest concern for cultural managers, scientists and international agencies is how we will act to conserve heritages recognized by UNESCO and the state.

NGO DUC THINH, the National Cultural Heritage Council

Heritage conservation will succeed only when it is carried out by common folk            

UNESCO is very interested in commitments to heritage conservation by countries applying for recognition.

The fact that we push for having more heritages being honored partly reflects our achievement disease, which has spread to all walks of life and has to be treated.

However, the honor conferred on our heritage will be canceled out if we do nothing to conserve it.

What is the conservation status of our heritage sites after being recognized by UNESCO?

The conservation of many heritage sites has not improved even after being recognized by the organization. Ca tru (a complex form of sung poetry found in the north of Vietnam using lyrics written in traditional Vietnamese poetic forms) is an example. Despite our efforts, we have not yet been able to take it out of the list of heritages needing urgent protection. The conservation of the cultural space of the gong in the Central Highlands is not good either.

The community is very happy when heritage sites are honored, but it is not yet fully aware of the [need for] cultural heritage protection. The most important thing is that the public lacks knowledge about heritage protection. Heritage conservation is a science, and we should learn it. Sometimes we make great efforts in heritage protection, but cannot get good results as hoped for, and even destroy their value because of poor knowledge in the field.

We have enthusiasm for heritage conservation, but our knowledge is still poor. We need to improve awareness and knowledge of heritage protection. It is very important.

There is an opinion that we should not rank intangible cultural heritages because it will create a hierarchy of high- and low-ranking heritages. What do you think about this?

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism has identified national intangible cultural heritages since 2012. To date over 40 heritages have been recognized as national intangible cultural heritages, of which those meeting UNESCO criteria are chosen and applied for recognition as intangible cultural heritages of humanity. The honor should not be the ultimate end, but an encouragement to protect and foster them.

If the government or the world does not honor certain heritages, we should still protect them. It is most important.

We see few youths participating in heritage protection. What should the government and experts do to make the public more aware of the country's heritage?

The future of a country belongs to youths, so the future of the nation's culture also belongs to them. Youths play a decisive role in heritage conservation. Without the participation of young people in conservation, heritage will not exist.

What is the most important aspect in heritage conservation?

We should encourage people to participate in heritage conservation with government support. We have not succeeded in conserving our cultural heritage because the government has not yet involved common people in the task. The government has done the people's work in heritage protection. Other governments never do that. They only support people in protecting the heritage. Heritage conservation will succeed only when it is carried out by common folk.

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