Message from Mr. Federico Mayor
Director-General of UNESCO

It is with pleasure that UNESCO is co-operating with the prestigious Smithsonian Institution in the organization of this meeting on the global assessment of the application of the UNESCO 1989 Recommendation on the Safeguarding of Traditional Culture and Folklore. I am also pleased that the Organization is able to participate in the 34th annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival, a Festival that celebrates cultural diversity. This Conference aims to evaluate the manner in which the Recommendation has been implemented and thus assess the present situation of intangible cultural heritage in the world; to analyze the role that intangible cultural heritage can play in resolving local and national problems relating to major contemporary concerns; and to draw up a new strategy for the coming years.
I would like here to highlight the important role that the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage has played in the preparation of this meeting, a co-operative effort with UNESCO that is itself of great significance. As some of you may recall, the founder of the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, Ralph Rinzler, was also an active member of the United States’ National Commission for UNESCO. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to his memory. Ralph Rinzler was a tireless supporter of the promotion of local expressive systems and of their continuity within host communities. In his eyes, living culture, a form of democracy, was as important as any other type of democracy.
Following the Second World War and thanks to the initiatives of governments and prominent personalities, UNESCO was created for the purpose of promoting international peace and common welfare through intellectual and moral collaboration among nations. To quote the inspiring words of the American poet Archibald MacLeish, inscribed in the Constitution of UNESCO:

“Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.”

Throughout the twelve years that I have been Director-General of UNESCO, I have consistently worked to place this fundamental idea of the Organization’s founders at the core of all UNESCO programmes, and to promote a culture of peace and democracy. I am quite aware of the difficulties inherent in such a difficult undertaking, yet it is imperative that we persevere with determination.
It is UNESCO’s duty, as an intergovernmental organization, to listen to governments in order to trace out the main lines of educational, scientific and cultural programmes. However, UNESCO is also attentive to the aspirations and needs of various communities and civil society, with the aim of assisting people in discovering, and implementing, the most appropriate solutions according to circumstances. To quote a celebrated poem by Walt Whitman, entitled “To you”:

“Stranger, if you passing meet me and desire to speak to me, why should you not speak to me?
And why should I not speak to You?”

This is our goal - to encourage people of different origins to speak together and share their particular cultural values as equal partners.
The UNESCO 1989 Recommendation, whose implementation you will be examining, was a first attempt to provide a common international basis for policies for safeguarding traditional culture and folklore. The assessment now being made should take account of the sum of political, economic and social changes of the past ten years. As we enter the third millennium, we should be commemorating the natural and cultural heritage that we have inherited from past generations; indeed, in our search for economic growth and technological progress, we have often overlooked our roots. For a long time many people thought that “heritage” meant “tangible heritage”; in other words natural or cultural sites, monuments, and so forth. However, in recent years, with all the turmoil of globalization and the rapid growth of the market economy, the spiritual and symbolic value of the intangible cultural heritage - that is to say, of traditional and popular cultural expression - has been revealed and recognized. Tangible and intangible heritage relate to human creativity in everyday life. On the one hand, human beings have changed the natural environment through their ancestral activities while, on the other hand, they have accumulated a sizeable store of knowledge, rituals, languages and oral traditions, including tales, epics, theatre and music.
I am particularly pleased that this important event is taking place at the Smithsonian Institution, which has long been a partner of UNESCO. I should like to refer here to the Smithsonian’s Man and the Biosphere Biodiversity Program (SIMAB), a programme that commenced in 1986 as a joint effort between the two organizations.
Exactly one century separates the creation of the Smithsonian Institution and that of UNESCO. It has been a century of rich experience dedicated to the spread of knowledge in different parts of the world. The work of the Smithsonian complements the global activities of UNESCO. Considering our past achievements, I am confident that today’s event will constitute a milestone for future co-operation.
Finally, I should like to express my sincere gratitude to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the United States Department of State, the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Smithsonian Institution Office for International Relations for their generous financial contributions that have made this gathering possible.
I wish you every success in your deliberations.