04 February 2012

"Cultural branding rights"

This article from the New York Times last month discusses the good and bad of World Heritage Site designation by UNESCO: "What Does UNESCO Recognition Mean, Exactly?" While this short article can only be considered a cursory glance at this highly complex issue, it is worth a read. I'd be curious to know what y'all think about World Heritage status for archaeological and historic sites, as well as "intangible heritage" like traditional folklore, music, or cooking. Does the bad (unsustainable tourism, ecological degradation) outweigh the good ($$$, heightened notoriety, additional State protections)? How much follow-up and oversight does UNESCO really have over these 936 sites and traditions? My answers are: "in certain cases yes and "I can tell you now: not much."

The unfortunate closing quote by Washington's Ambassador to UNESCO David T. Killion leaves an especially bad taste in my mouth. I hope the Times took it out of context because a flat statement about "cultural branding rights," while painfully accurate in most cases, is not the best impression I want the U.S. to make at UNESCO. Then again with our funding pulled from UNESCO, most State parties might just chalk this up to lip service anyhow.

Play the "Protected or Not?" game! (from New York Times, click to enlarge)

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