Traditional and folk culture are an integral part of the cultural heritage of every country; however, in the second half of the 20th century, folk traditions began to fade away and sometimes they have disappeared irretrievably. Many people worldwide are aware of the necessity to safeguard the cultural heritage. This is also an aim of UNESCO which created an unusually broad programme in the realm of culture. The cooperation between the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic and UNESCO in the field of culture is based on the Convention concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage adopted in 1972, which established the List of World Heritage („UNESCO“ listed landmarks) and set forth obligations of the countries towards the items inscribed on the List.
The efforts to care of the intangible cultural heritage, which is endangered at the most due to its nature, has a shorter tradition in UNESCO. The intangible cultural heritage includes, among other things traditional and folk culture which significantly contributes to cultural variety, and for this reason its importance increases mainly in the process of globalization.
UNESCO is the guarantor of the only effective international document in this section of culture – the Recommendations on the Safeguarding of Traditional and Folk Culture from 1989. As mentioned in this documents, it supports any forms of research and documentation of this type of culture, especially its intangible part. Beginning with the year 1995, regional meetings of experts were summoned, which worked out reports about how the particular provisions of the Recommendation are fulfilled in different countries.
From the perspective of the Czech Republic, it is extraordinary important that the very first meeting for the region of Central and Eastern Europe took place in the National Institute of Folk Culture in Strážnice in 1995, with the aid of the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic and UNESCO. The questionnaires drawn up at the Institute were then used worldwide. These meetings resulted in the world meeting in Washington in 1999 and its document called the Action Plan for the Protection and Development of Intangible Cultural Heritage. These documents then produced the need to made a national concept of the care of intangible cultural heritage.
The success of the meeting of UNESCO experts resulted, among other things, in two meetings of experts from the countries of Central and Eastern Europe in the years 1996 – 1997. The National Institute of Folk Culture worked out and published, for UNESCO, a methodological manual “Principles of the Protection of Traditional Folk Culture against Inappropriate Commercialization”. In two sub-sequent years, the Institute worked out for UNESCO a study with the theme “Ethics ad Traditional Folk Culture”. This world organization acknowledged the hitherto cooperation by awarding the Flag of Tolerance for the National Institute of Folk Culture and the auspices of UNESCO Director-General over the International Folklore Festival in Strážnice.
The Czech Republic participates in the fulfilment of the content of the above Recommendation even with video-documentaries in the realm of folk dances and folk crafts and it also became involved in the introduction of the system of care for folk handicrafts and folk art production, which is called “Living Human Treasures” in UNESCO. The National Institute of Folk Culture in cooperation with the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic worked out the Czech version of this system in 2000 under the title „Bearers of Folk Craft Tradition“.
In 2003, the Czech Government approved the Strategy of Improved Care for Traditional Folk Culture in the Czech Republic. It was the National Institute of Folk Culture, the Ministry of Culture, and many experts from various institutions and authorities who took part in the work on the Strategy. The National Institute of Folk Culture was appointed the central authorized institution to coordinate and fulfil the tasks relating to this document.
The UNESCO 32nd General Conference adopted on 17th October 1972 the Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. This Convention established two new Lists of Elements for Intangible Culture, the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity and the List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding, whose existence substituted the former project “Masterpieces of Oral and Immaterial Heritage of Humanity”.
In 2005, the National Institute of Folk Culture organized the International Meeting of Central and Eastern European Countries on national policies aimed at the safeguarding of and the support to traditional folk culture as an important part of intangible cultural heritage. In 2009, another international meeting of UNESCO experts was held in Strážnice. This focused on safeguarding measures concerning the elements of intangible cultural heritage. Conclusions of both working meetings were published separately.
On 18th February 2009, the Czech Republic stored the accession documents regarding the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity in UNESCO seat. It became the 109th country that acceded to the Convention. In June 2010, the General Meeting of States Parties to the Convention elected the Czech Republic for four years a member of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.
More information find please on UNESCO homepage, section intangible cultural heritage, http://www.unesco.org/