Working together to retain cultural heritage

March 2004 -

Collectively working to sustainably retain cultural heritage has high priority in international cultural policy. The Netherlands and South Africa recently agreed upon a collective policy framework. The treaty will be signed soon. The formal cooperation between Sri Lanka and the Netherlands celebrates its first birthday in April.

‘Our cooperation in retaining and managing our collective cultural heritage focuses on strengthening cultural and historical awareness in Sri Lanka, saving valuable art treasures and cultural expressions, and deepening the cultural relations between the Netherlands and Sri Lanka,’ says Sanne Kaasjager, cultural attaché to the Dutch embassy in Colombo. The initiative for the bilateral cultural programme dates from 1999, when the governments of the two countries established the Mutual Heritage Centre (MHC). The cooperation adopted a more formal nature when the policy framework was signed in April of last year.

For the time being, the MHC exists on paper only. ‘The executive committee meets once each calendar quarter. All of the organisations involved attend these meetings, including the embassy,’ according to Kaasjager. ‘During the form we discuss current heritage matters and make work agreements. Hopefully they will be able to give the MHC physical content as well here. The necessary technical assistance is available now, but soon the MHC will have only itself to rely on.’

Sri Lanka and the Netherlands focus their cooperation on four sectors: constructed heritage, museums, archives and maritime archaeology. ‘The projects we are doing in the city of Galle in Sri Lanka are undoubtedly the most valuable,’ Kaasjager believes. ‘The renovation of the Dutch Reformed Church there, for example. With its relative simplicity, it has proven to be an effective contribution, in both aesthetic and technical terms.’ Another project is the digging and conservation of the VOC ship De Avondster, which sank in the harbour of Galle in 1659. This work will be concluded at the end of this year. ‘That project is unique in terms of its size (0.7 million euros) and because of the enormous international allure it has acquired over the course of time.’

The Dutch government is currently discussing a similar policy with the authorities in Ghana, which the parties hope to sign in the course of this year. Surinam was the first country with which the Netherlands decided to cooperate in terms of retaining collective cultural heritage. The Dutch government has also identified - in addition to South Africa and Sri Lanka - India, Indonesia and the Russian Federation as countries with top priority.