For months now, the whole world has been dominated by the pandemic. Worries about our health were quickly followed by worries about the economic and social impact of this unprecedented crisis.
In this situation, a particular look at the difficulties facing culture professionals is no luxury. Because in times of crisis, culture gives us something to hold on to. Culture promotes togetherness. And culture connects our society. Culture sites and venues are places of joy, hope or sometimes sadness. But they are always places where an open society meets and forms.
This is especially true when it comes to cultural heritage. In being different from today, cultural heritage serves us as a blueprint. Yesterday helps us to better understand today, and makes it easier to shape our tomorrow.
All this we sometimes call “cultural identity”. But it is about much more than that. We are speaking about a heritage which expresses the hope of all people for humanity. This is the real foundation of our temples and cathedrals, our libraries, museums and art treasures.
But this heritage is in danger. Because of wars and plundering, robbery and illegal trade. Such crimes against cultural heritage are crimes against humanity. Because what has been destroyed cannot be recovered.
Wherever culture is destroyed, humanity dies – and a part of each and every one of us dies, too.
This is true of the crimes of the so-called Islamic State in Syria, as well as of the
destruction of Palmyra and the Buddhas of Bamiyan.
And this is true of the crimes against cultural heritage sites in Yemen, and of the
attempted destruction of the manuscripts from Timbuktu.
I would like thank all the people who work to counter such madness. All those who protect our cultural heritage, often at great personal risk.
But the courage of individuals is not enough. We need the whole international community to act.
Cultural heritage cannot be preserved without joint action and solidarity.
Therefore, it is so important that three international organisations have joined with Germany to host this conference: The European Union, the Council of Europe and UNESCO.
And I am delighted to welcome Amina Mohammed and Audrey Azoulay. Combating the destruction of cultural assets is the top priority for them.
In 2015, together with the United Nations and Iraq, Germany co-sponsored a UN resolution against the destruction of cultural property and against terrorist financing through illegal trade.
And we are ready to continue our strong efforts in this field:
Following the devastating explosion in Beirut, we quickly made funding available, not least for cultural preservation.
And we are going to work with the German Archaeological Institute and the Federal Agency for Technical Relief to develop a “cultural property rescue mechanism”, which we will introduce in more detail at this conference. The idea is to use disaster response technology and know-how to save cultural heritage.
Also in the European Union, protection of cultural assets is at the top of our agenda.
During our current EU Presidency and our upcoming Presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, the topic is a focus, as shown by this conference.
And I am pleased that we are also looking at another human induced threat to our cultural heritage: climate change. Because climate change and its effects are not natural disasters. They are human induced disasters.
And they are endangering not only our future, but also our past. Wherever monsoons or monster floods, storms and fires are damaging our cultural heritage.
We need to focus more on this danger. And that’s why I welcome all the experts gathered here, with their knowledge not only of cultural preservation – but also of the impact of climate change.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We have launched unprecedented emergency programmes to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. To protect our health, our economy and our social cohesion.
Cultural heritage needs the same protection in the crisis. It needs us – our full commitment, our coordination skills and our powers of persuasion.
On that note, again a warm welcome to all of you. I wish you a very successful conference!