On May 20 and 21, 2005, Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov held a forum called Cultural Corridors in Southeast Europe: Common Past and shared Heritage – a Key to a Future Partnership in Varna, Bulgaria. Cultural Corridors was the first summit in what is expected to be a long-term effort to preserve and promote the region’s cultural and historic heritage as a way to overcome the xenophobic sentiments in Southeast Europe. Moreover, it aims to present a unified and authentic image of the region to help its integration into the common European spectrum.

The forum was conducted under the auspices of President Parvanov, UNESCO Secretary General Koichiro Matsuura, Council of Europe Secretary General Terry Davis, and included the heads of state of seven other countries from the region. Also present were official representatives of the European Commission, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), and experts in the field of cultural heritage and cultural tourism, as well as culture ministers of countries neighbouring to the region.

The meeting was based on the general understanding that culture can be the basis for positive interactions between countries and an effective instrument in overcoming conflicts. In his address at the forum President Parvanov defined the concept of cultural corridors as follows: “I believe that today, at this high-level Forum, we will succeed in erasing the ideological and nationalist connotations of this concept [and] showing, thanks to our joint efforts, the other face, which is in fact the true face, of South-East Eruope […] The Forum shows that the region can think and speak with its own voice, that it can defend its own vision of its internal cultural interaction, and of the region’s interaction with its partners in Europe and in the rest of the world.�? At the opening of the conference Mr. Matsuura pointed out “This is a moment of historic significance for UNESCO which has always argued that culture had a pivotal role in international relations, since, today, it is heads of state who are declaring before the world their support for this approach,�?. Council of Europe Secretary General Terry Davis also emphasized the forum’s focus on understanding cultural dialogue as a basis for political dialogue. According to him, the objectives of the forum coincide with the integration approach of the Council of Europe to cultural heritage and cultural tourism.

All participants in the forum unanimously agreed that the cultural diversity of the Southeast-European region should no longer be a ground for opposition and confrontation, but rather a central part of the region's positive image, an important advantage in its Euro-Atlantic integration strategy, and a critical resource for boosting economic development through cultural tourism. As Greek President Karolos Papulias underscored, tourism is an international language, understood by every country throughout the world.

The heads of state of South-East Europe concluded the summit with the adoption of the Varna Declaration. In the document the participants pledge to work to unite the efforts of the public and government sectors to “encourage concerted action for the balanced sustainable development of cultural heritage, including cultural tourism […], promote intercultural education as a means of fostering mutual understanding […], [and to] encourage cooperation concerning ways and means of promoting and protecting intangible cultural heritage.�? The next round of regional conferences will be hosted by Croatian President Stipe Mesic in 2006 and will be dedicated to cooperation in the field of science.

Information: Bulgarian News Agency

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BalkanKult Foundation