admin1 – March 6, 2007 – 10:51am
Cultural Heritage, Ohrid

Lidija Topuzovska

Following the UNESCO Conference held on high level in the Organization’s Headquarters in Paris (April 2004) on the topic Cooperation between UNESCO and South-East European Countries the interest in and support to this regional cooperation in the frameworks of the UNESCO was intensified.

The so-far accomplished regional meetings on the level of presidents of states during the UN and UNESCO decade Dialogue among Civilizations (the forums in Ohrid 2003, Tirana 2004, Varna 2005, and Opatija 2006) are a clear evidence for the UNESCO contribution to the introduction of a new quality and dimension in the regional cooperation of the countries of South-East Europe, as well as the regional ministerial conferences on culture (Mostar 2004 and Venice 2005), including the establishment of the Council of Ministers of Culture of South-East Europe, the signing of the Statute in Copenhagen, and the third ministerial conference in Ohrid.

With these important meetings on the highest level the process of reconciliation and reinforcement of peace and stability in the region of South-East Europe was accelerated and a dialogue on mutual understanding, tolerance, and respect for the different cultures and ethnic and religious differences in and among the civilizations began.

It is particularly important to emphasize the continuity of the so-far meetings that, through mutual exchange of experiences and presentations, manage to define the priorities and the common needs of the region. It is exactly the culture and the cultural heritage with all its varieties and similarities in this region that make it more promising.

The future partnership is an unambiguous strategic imperative of the cultural development of the countries of South-East Europe. The affirmation of the different cultural identities via jointly coordinated projects is the planning of a high quality development policy in the region.

By emphasizing the new spirit of regional cooperation with continual regional meetings on the level of presidents of states and on the level of ministers of culture, as well as the formation of an expert net and long-lasting strategic program in all the areas of culture, all the limiting definitions will be eliminated and the inter-cultural processes and sustainable development will be promoted in the region.

In the frameworks of the UNESCO and the Council of Europe, the Republic of Macedonia is making efforts to improve the cooperation with the member states in South-East Europe with an active involvement in their program initiatives.

Our country, although small and with tempestuous history and rich cultural tradition, with a peaceful nation that always extends a friendly hand for cooperation with the neighbors, with Europe, and with all the countries in the world, consistently follows the idea of the European Union and UNESCO for a world with less limitations.

In the frameworks of the cooperation with UNESCO, the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Macedonia was the host of the Third Ministerial Conference on Cultural Heritage in South-Eastern Europe, as a continuation of the previously held two conferences in Mostar (2004) and Venice (2005) on the topic Cultural Heritage: a Bridge Towards a Shared Future.

The Conference was held on 3 and 4 November 2006 in Ohrid, in Metropol Hotel.

As the previous two conferences, the Third Conference was also organized with the help of the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture – BRESCE, with its Headquarters in Venice, and the Italian Government.

The following ministers of culture of South-East Europe participated in the Conference: Albania – Mr. Bujar Leskaj, Bosnia and Herzegovina – Mr. Safet Halilovic, Bulgaria – Ms. Ina Kileva, deputy minister, Croatia – Mr. Bozo Biskupic, Montenegro – Mr. Predrag Malbasa, deputy minister, Serbia – Ms. Liljana Sop, state secretary, Romania – Mr. Adrian Lemeni, state secretary, Moldova – Mr. Artur Cozma, and Macedonia- Mr. Ilirijan Bekiri , Ms. Françoise Rivier, UNESCO Assistant Director General for Culture, Mrs. Marie-Paule Roudil, head of the UNESCO Regional Bureau Department for Culture – BRESCE in Venice, together with representatives of the Department, the Minister of Culture and Deputy President of the Council of Ministers of the Italian Republic – Mr. Francesco Rutelli.

The following member countries of the Stability Pact had their observers at the Conference: France, Greece, Lithuania, Slovenia, Switzerland, Ukraine, the USA, as well as diplomatic representation offices and missions in Macedonia, the European Commission, and so on.

In conformity with the so-far practice, the following events took place in the frameworks of the Conference: Plenary Session, Round Table of the ministers of culture, and Round Table of the International Working Group. The Conference was chaired by Minister of Culture Mr. Bekiri, and the mediator of the Round Table of Ministers was Deputy Minister Mr. Despotovski.

Macedonian Prime Minister Mr. Nikola Gruevski opened the Conference and in his address he pointed out the interest of our country for a vivid and direct cooperation with the countries of the region and with all the countries in the world in general in the spirit of tolerance, mutual understanding, and willingness for dialogue, and it is exactly the culture and the cultural heritage, with all its variety and centuries-long existence and universal value that can be and is an instrument of peace and establishment of dialogue and constant economic development. Starting form the universal values of the cultural heritage, he presented the Government’s willingness to support the activities of the Ministry of Culture and he announced the more important projects from the area of protection of cultural heritage that will be accomplished in the next years, like: restoration of the University of St. Clement known in the world as the First Slavic University from the 9th century, archaeological researches all over the compound of Plaosnik, opening of a Museum on water that is to be built in Gradiste, on the settlement of 3,200 years ago, from the Bronze Age, the Museum of the VMRO, and so on.

Minister Rutelli also addressed the opening session and he expressed gratitude to Prime Minister Gruevski for the warm welcome and his pleasure for being in Macedonia. He emphasized that, in conditions of good cooperation, all the participants would make a summary about what has been accomplished and prepare the agenda for new initiatives. Moreover, he pointed out that the culture is the best soil for fostering understanding and deep connections and remarked that Italy has especially good relations with all the countries in the region, which will be improved in the future through joint projects and more frequent meetings as are the ministerial conferences. In mentioning Bulgaria and Romania as countries that will soon become an official part of the European Union ( by the time this publication came out, Bulgaria and Romania had already joined the EU, MIC note.), he pointed out that this would be an encouraging motif for the other countries of South-East Europe that are aspiring to the same goal. Minister Rutelli explained that the term expansion of the Union expresses a geometrical concept rather than just political. It is not about new countries joining the Union, but it is about Europe, following many divisions in the last century, to find again its unity. Finally, he expressed gratitude to Minister Bekiri for the excellent organization of the conference and the hospitality in beautiful Ohrid, the main attraction of the country and the cradle of Macedonian culture.

Ms. Rivier, assistant director general of UNESCO, in her address on behalf of the Organization, greeted all the participants and emphasized the important role of such regional meetings, as well as the application of the UNESCO Convention in the domain of protection of cultural heritage. Ms. Rivier stressed that the Convention on protection of underwater heritage is also very important and appealed to the member countries that have not yet ratified it to do so in order to make it effective.

The Round Table of the ministers of culture began with the introductory presentation of Minister Bekiri who expressed his pleasure that the Republic of Macedonia was the host to the Third Ministerial Conference on Cultural Heritage held in a friendly and constructive atmosphere. He expressed particular gratitude to the Sector of Culture of the UNESCO Regional Bureau in Venice and to the Italian Government for the strong support and understanding that they extend to the countries in South-East Europe in their efforts and aspirations for preserving and promoting their mutual cooperation. Mr. Bekiri emphasized that the so far regional meetings have been inspiring and giving new possibilities for the realization of many beautiful relations and events in the Region, thus enriching and intensifying the communication among the countries in South-East Europe in all the areas, particularly in the domain of culture and cultural heritage. The Minister also gave concrete examples of projects that have been successfully accomplished in the period between the conferences in Venice and in Ohrid with the assistance of the Italian Government and UNESCO, like: the realized training program for directors and managers of museums of modern art with the support of the Italian regions of Toscana and Umbria; the restoration and conservation training for modern art organized by the Veneto Region, as well as the beginning of the project on cultural heritage and cultural tourism of the countries of the Region within the Fund founded last year during the Venice Conference.

Minister Bekiri also mentioned the pilot project on education and culture that the Italian Government started to realize in Macedonia in cooperation with the International Management Group, which consists of financial and professional support to the Museum of Modern Art in Skopje, assistance to the protection and valorization of the archaeological sites in Skupi, Heraclea, and Stobi, support to the process of decentralization and support to the UNESCO regional center for digitalization of cultural heritage.

In his presentation, the Minister listed several important regional meetings that our country had in the last two years in the frameworks of the UNESCO, like: the Regional meeting on digitalization of cultural heritage, the Regional meeting on anti-piracy, the Regional meeting on dance – CID UNESCO, the Regional meeting on prevention of illegal trade and other illegal activities with cultural goods, and the World’s Congress on Mosaics.

Furthermore, all the present ministers had their presentations expressing their experiences and activities in the domain of culture and cultural heritage, welcoming the initiative for continual cooperation in the region with concrete joint projects.

The Conference continued with efforts for viewing the possibilities for expanding and deepening the regional cooperation, for valorization of the cultural values in the Region, for strengthening the already started joint links of cooperation and regional connection with the inter-cultural dialogue in all the spheres of culture, but with a special emphasis on the protection, conservation, promotion of cultural heritage, education of professionals in the domain of conservation, documentation, and management of cultural heritage in the Region as a part of the world’s cultural heritage. The creation of a special Fund (as an initiative given at the Second Meeting in Venice, when the Italian Government donated the initial sum of 800,000 Euros) for the financing of concrete projects that will enable a vivid and continual communication and cooperation among the countries in the Region is intended for giving the possibility for the cultural specifics and values of the cultural heritage (the material, as well as the spiritual) to create conditions for a sustainable economic development. The ministers of culture of the countries of South-East Europe, Italy, and the UNESCO representatives agreed that this kind of conferences presents an extraordinary contribution to the spirit of reinforced cooperation and promotion of regional cultural heritage on the level of partnership among all the participant countries in the Conference. It was agreed to hold the next, the Fourth Ministerial Conference, in Croatia in 2007.

At the end of the discussion, the ministers signed a joint Declaration.

The Ohrid Declaration represents a possibility for reaffirmation of the strong will to preserve the wealth and variety of the cultural riches in the Region and to promote it as a wealth belonging to the entire world. The accent in the document was placed on training, education, and communications, particularly among the young that will have a fundamental role in the preservation of the cultural heritage.

Following the signing of the Declaration, Minister of Culture Mr. Bekiri, the host, addressed all the participants emphasizing that this Conference is one of the most important events in South-East Europe because it shows the willingness of all the countries in the Region to continue with the cooperation in the frameworks of the UNESCO, the European Union, the Council of Europe, and in general, as neighboring countries with common needs. The affirmation and respect for the different cultural identities through jointly coordinated projects will be the planning of a high, good quality development policy of a continual mutual dialogue. The Minister expressed his belief that the Declaration adopted in Ohrid would be another bridge for a common promising future, a bridge for continuing the DIALOGUE, the mutual confidence, and cooperation in which the cultural heritage would have a big role in creating a better and more humane world. He emphasized that they would do their best to make the Republic of Macedonia a part of this world.

After signing the Ohrid Declaration, a cultural program was organized with the participation of Gordana Josifova-Nedelkovska, oboe, accompanies by piano player Tatjana Ognanovska, and the “Synthesis” Group. The greatest attention was attracted by the Ensemble “Tanec”, performing folk dances and songs, which performed the Macedonian traditional dance “Teskoto”, which was the Macedonian candidate for a master piece of spiritual cultural heritage of humanity at the UNESCO Third Festival.

Aside from the plenary session and the round table of the ministers of culture, meetings of the International Working Group were held during the Conference, as well as bilateral meetings of ministers, and a visit was paid to Ohrid’s cultural monuments: St.Clement’s church, St.Pantelejmon at Plaosnik, the Ancient Theatre (Fig. 1), St.Bogorodica Perivlepta  church, and the Icons Gallery (Fig. 2).

According to the Conference Program, the International Group worked in two sessions on 3 and 4 November 2006. The International Working Group was created during the Second Ministerial Conference in Venice in 2005, with the basic task to help the UNESCO Regional Bureau in Venice – BRESCE – in defining and implementing all the projects that arise from this frame of cooperation.

In the first, as well as in the second working session, representatives, members of the International Working Group from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, and Montenegro participated, including members of South-East European countries, representatives from Italy, representatives from UNESCO, the International managerial group-mission in Skopje, as well as observers from Greece (Ministry of Culture), France (the Embassy in Skopje), Lithuania, and Ukraine (the Embassy in Skopje).

At the beginning of the first session the introductory presentation was delivered by the representative from Macedonia, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and a representative from UNESCO.

The UNESCO representative from Venice presented the achievements accomplished in the period between the Conference in Mostar in 2004 up-to-date, among which was promoted the web side of the UNESCO Regional Bureau in Venice.

The opening of the Round Table entitle Regional Cooperation for Cultural Heritage in South-East Europe: goals, results, and future directions followed.

In conformity with the Program, three projects were presented in the session:

-    “Creation of a regional center for digitalization of cultural heritage” in Skopje, the Republic of Macedonia, as an activity of the UNESCO Office in Venice.

-    “Pilot Activities for Education and Culture”, as an activity financed by the Italian Government via the International management group – mission in Skopje;

-    “Project for formation of an Institute for conservation and restoration of cultural heritage in Serbia,” as an activity of the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Serbia.

The first session ended with the discussion of the members and recommendations for conclusions on the previously presented initiatives.

At the second, the final session of the International Working Group, the following conclusions and recommendations were adopted:

-    The activities arising from the first two conferences in Mostar and Venice were fully supported;

-    Cultural tourism was indicated as a joint subject that should be compatible with the preservation of the identity and social cohesion on a local level.  The support to cultural tourism, with the meaning of a promotional instrument, should be accompanied by measures that are aimed at making it economically, culturally, and socially sustainable;

-    Promotional and educational activities should be integrated in the initiatives for the improvement of the cultural heritage management;

-    Special attention should be dedicated to the reinforcement of bilateral, as well as of regional cooperation and border-cross activities of cultural itineraries/corridors:

-    Development of one’s own capacities and education of professionals, as a need that was also underlined by some ministers in their presentations at the plenary session, remains as the top priority in the regional cooperation in the field of cultural heritage. For this purpose, the International Working Group supports the formation of a regional data bank of experts as an element of joint respective resource of knowledge;

-    Preparation of a regional educational project for reviving the quality of public communication and services in the frameworks of the ministries;

-    The common web site is

-    In reference to the operation of the expert group, all the member countries accepted to nominate a permanent contact-person/expert. This person will represent his/her country and will act as a focal-point in both directions in the flow of information between the International Working Group and the state at a national level;

-    The International Working Group will meet at least twice a year with the aim of: a) supervising the implementation of the current activities; b) discussing and defining the future activities; c) preparing the annual ministerial conferences. In the meantime, the UNESCO Regional Bureau in Venice will act as a permanent secretariat of the International Working Group.

The third Ministerial Conference on Cultural Heritage in South-East Europe, which ended with success in Ohrid, implies continuation of the noble idea that was initiated in 2004 in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, by UNESCO and the Italian Government.

Following the first and the second conferences held in Venice, Italy, in 2005, the involved efforts of the member countries of this region in Europe produced some results as a confirmation for the will of all the national and participating international institutions to use the cultural heritage as a strategic resource for economic and human development in the region.


Ms. Lidija Topuzovska is Secretary General of the National Commission for UNESCO of the Republic of Macedonia and Head of the Department for UNESCO and International Organizations of the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Macedonia.