Conflicts and Reconciliation in the Postmillennial Heritage-Policy Discourses of the Council of Europe and the European Union

  • Tuuli LähdesmäkiEmail author
Open Access
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Cultural Heritage and Conflict book series (PSCHC)


Lähdesmäki analyses the heritage-policy discourses of the EU and the Council of Europe. She particularly discusses how these institutions deal with the challenges the idea of heritage faces in today’s Europe and the opportunities that these may present to respond to these challenges. The analysis shows how the EU and the Council of Europe seek to reconcile heritage-related conflicts by approaching heritage as a space for civil participation, interaction, intercultural dialogue, and conversation about divergent values and narrations of the past. However, their policy discourses often relay on a static and materialist notion of heritage. This kind of discourse maintains geographical, cultural, political, socio-economic, and religious power hierarchies and an exclusive understanding of a common European cultural heritage.


Europe is currently facing challenges that affect the contestation of the meaning of heritage. These challenges for example include: different forms of extremism in Europe, such as radical right and Islamist movements; Eurosceptic attitudes combined with new nationalist agendas; ethnic and religious confrontations; exclusion of minority, immigrant, and refugee groups; and various groups’ sense that they do not belong to European societies. These challenges manifest in national, regional, and local discourses on heritage, and in their complex and dissonant relationship to the past, as the chapters by Rob van Laarse and Iris van Huis in this volume indicate. These challenges also manifest at the most intimate level and are thus also embodied in the interaction between people, as Milica Trakilović and Gabriele Proglio show in this volume. As these challenges (and their causes and consequences) are not only local, regional, or national, but cross various territorial, social, and cultural borders, they also need to be responded to at the transnational level. But how do transnational policy actors respond to and tackle these challenges in their heritage policies?

The European Union (EU) and the Council of Europe influence in various ways heritage-policy discourses, not only at the European level, but also at the national and sub-national levels, as their heritage initiatives and programs are implemented by national, regional, and local actors. The heritage-policy discourses of the EU and the Council of Europe are commonly adapted to the policy goals of the actors at these levels. In general, the heritage policy discourses of the EU and the Council of Europe are closely connected; the recent heritage policy documents by both actors often refer to each others’ policies, agendas, and cultural programs and initiatives. These discourses thus have a broad impact on the notions and conceptions of heritage in Europe.

While recent heritage research has devoted extensive attention to conflicts in processes and practices of heritage, the notion of dissonance is not tackled as much, and analyses of the role of dissonant heritages in cultural policy are few (Kisić 2017, 31). An analysis of heritage dissonances in and contradictions of transnational cultural policy is needed in particular, as the core European political actors (the EU and the Council of Europe) have recently emphasized the potential of heritage to solve conflicts and tackle contradictions and tensions between people. To that end, these actors have used heritage to actively promote intercultural dialogue, people’s interest not only in themselves but also in others, and mutual understanding and respect between different groups of people.

In this chapter, I discuss heritage dissonance (Kisić 2017; see also Mäkinen and the introduction in this volume) in today’s Europe, particularly focusing on the current challenges that the idea of heritage faces in postmillennial European reality and on the opportunities that heritage may have to respond to these challenges. I will discuss this by analyzing the current heritage-policy discourses of the EU and the Council of Europe, and explore how their policy discourse reflects and reacts to these challenges. My analysis focuses in particular on the means by which these actors seek to construct a feeling of belonging, communality, and identity (such as the notion of “European identity”) through heritage in order to tackle exclusion and increase inclusion.

The idea of belonging has a central role in the different policy discourses of the EU and the Council of Europe. The concept itself explicitly recurs in EU policy discourse, as Katja Mäkinen and Johanna Turunen also note in this volume. The policy discourse’s emphasis on belonging more generally reflects the recent scholarly interest in, and discussions on, the concept, especially when the notion of “identity” is considered less useful. Despite various efforts to conceptualize identity as a multilayered, fluid, and negotiated process, several scholars have argued that the concept of identity has lost its analytical power (on this discussion, see e.g. Lähdesmäki et al. 2016). Unlike identity, the concept of belonging has been perceived as capturing “more accurately the desire for some sort of attachment, be it to other people, places, or modes of being, and the ways in which individuals and groups are caught within wanting to belong, wanting to become, a process that is fuelled by yearning rather than the positing of identity as a stable state”, as Probyn (1996, 19) has noted. Indeed, the concept of belonging has been perceived as flexibly combining various modes and degrees of “yearning”. For analytical purposes, Yuval-Davis (2006) and Antonsich (2010) have made a distinction between psychological and political modes of belonging, respectively meaning “a personal, intimate feeling of being ‘at home’ in a place” and “a discursive resource which constructs, claims, justifies, or resists forms of socio-spatial inclusion/exclusion” (Antonsich 2010, 645). This latter mode constitutes what Yuval-Davis and Antonsich call a “politics of belonging”. In this chapter, the EU’s and the Council of Europe’s policy discourses, and their explicit and implicit emphasis on people’s belonging are understood as constituting a “politics of belonging”—an attempt to create discursive, performative, and emotional attachments to Europe and fellow people in Europe.

My empirical material consists of policy documents that explicitly address heritage and that have been produced by the EU and the Council of Europe since the Council’s Framework Convention on the Value of Cultural Heritage for Society (commonly referred to as the Faro Convention, launched in 2005). This convention turned the emphasis of the Council of Europe’s heritage-policy discourse from the conservation and preservation of heritage to its communal, social, and societal effects (cf. Kisić 2017, 28, 33–34, 65). The heritage-related documents produced by the Council of Europe that I analyzed include conventions and their explanatory texts, resolutions, declarations, and recommendations available on the Council’s website. The documents produced by the EU were collected from the EUR-Lex, a database of EU legal texts, and include recommendations, resolutions, notices, communications, decisions, conclusions, and directives. Covering years 2005–2016 and including 30 Council of Europe documents and 15 EU documents, the data was examined by “close reading” (Brummet 2010) the policy rhetoric of the documents in order to identify the variety of roles and functions they gave to heritage and to perceive how the heritage dissonance was dealt with in the documents. I paid particular attention to the linguistic means, such as figures of speech and specific concepts, used when addressing issues of belonging, communality, and identity.

The EU and the Council of Europe are not monolithic or unanimous actors. Their policymaking is based on interactions and negotiations between several acting bodies, such the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union, the European Commission, and the European Committee of the Regions in the case of the EU, and the Committee of Ministers, the Parliamentary Assembly, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, and the Steering Committee for Culture, Heritage and Landscape in the case of the Council. Both the EU and the Council of Europe involve a number of European and national politicians, administrative officers, national and subnational authorities, advising and lobbying experts, and professionals commissioned for implementing specific tasks in their policy processes. Thus, all the documents included in my data have been produced as a result of a chain of negotiations and compromises seeking to reach consensus between the involved bodies. The texts in these documents usually undergo several amendments and revisions before their final publication. The analysis also acknowledged the genre of these documents; they commonly simplify the complexity of the issues addressed in the policy, avoid problematizing and raising explicit dissonance, and seek to consensually bring forth “one voice”.

Instead of exploring the authors of these policy documents, this chapter focuses on the policies themselves as “actants”—as productive and performative processes in which actors, concepts, and policies interact as technologies of power. It is through policies that problems and subjects are constructed and governed (Shore et al. 2011; Lähdesmäki et al. 2019). In practice, the contents of policies are created through linguistic, conceptual, and semantic choices that seek to determinate and specify the object of policies, and bring about action. An in-depth analysis of policy discourses is crucial to critically understanding their performativity.

This chapter starts by contextualizing the EU’s and the Council of Europe’s heritage-policy discourses and policymaking. This section is followed by an analysis of these heritage-policy discourses and an examination of their attempts to solve various contemporary challenges through the notion of heritage and the notion of Europe’s common cultural heritage in particular. The chapter ends with a discussion of the threats and possibilities that European heritage-policy discourses present to these current challenges.

The EU and the Council of Europe as Heritage-Policy Actors

The EU and the Council of Europe share an explicit aim to promote culture, identity, and values described and defined as European in their policy discourses . Both also act in the field of heritage management in various ways. Due to their different institutional natures, however the premises of their action differ. The Council mainly works through conventions developed by its member states. These member states maintain their sovereignty but commit themselves to conventions that function as common legal standards to be followed at the national level. The member states of the EU, in contrast, transfer part of their national legislative and executive power to the EU’s administrative bodies. Although EU directives deal with culture in a rather generic manner, the EU has a broad impact to cultural issues in its member states through a diverse array of decisions and recommendations on specific cultural matters and various funding instruments and cultural programs. The EU-level policies are then implemented—and, in the case of the abstract concepts used in these policies, also interpreted—at the sub-European level.

Founded in 1949 in the aftermath of World War II, the main aim of the Council of Europe is to “achieve a greater unity between its members for the purpose of safeguarding and realising the ideals and principles which are their common heritage and facilitating their economic and social progress”, as its founding statute declares (CofE 1949). Besides these abstract ideals and principles, the Council has also explicitly sought to safeguard “the common cultural heritage of Europe”, as the first article in the European Cultural Convention states (CofE 1954). Since that Convention, the Council has created several conventions that focus on safeguarding specific areas of heritage, such archaeological heritage (1969 and 1992), architectural heritage (1985), and audiovisual heritage (2001). This safeguarding function has determined the Council’s interest in cultural heritage until the Faro Convention. More recently, the social and societal shift in the Council’s heritage policy has extended it to an entirely new political sector. For example, the Council now also fights against terrorism and organized crime through the Convention on Offences Relating to Cultural Property (2017) that seeks to prevent and combat the illicit trafficking and intentional destruction of cultural heritage. Through this convention, the Council’s heritage politics explicitly address current armed conflicts and their effects on heritage.

The Council of Europe has had a major influence on the development and conceptualization of EU policy discourse. The Council’s rhetorical formulations and interest areas have often been absorbed into the EU’s policy discourse and their goals with only a short delay, particularly in questions related to culture (Sassatelli 2009, 43; Patel 2013, 6).

The foundation of the EU lies in the economic and political unification of Europe, developing from the European Economic Community, established by the Treaties of Rome signed in 1957, to the European Community, created by merging the European Economic Community, the European Coal and Steel Community, and the European Atomic Energy Community into a single institutional structure in 1967. In spite of this explicit emphasis on economic and political matters, culture has played an important role in the discursive formation of the Community since its early years. The concept of heritage first appeared in the Community’s policy discourse in the 1970s (Lähdesmäki et al. 2019). Sassatelli (2009, 39) has located the emergence of the Community’s identity discourse in that same decade, as the Declaration on European Identity was signed by nine European Community’s member states in Copenhagen in 1973, forming the starting point for the EU’s policy discourse on European identity.

The Maastricht Treaty—the founding agreement of the EU and deeper European integration, adopted in 1992—is considered as the start of the EU’s cultural policy, as the treaty includes a specific article on culture. Since then, Europeans’ cultural connections and identities have attained increasing attention in the EU’s integration discourse and policies. In them, the idea and concept of cultural heritage is emphasized. Since the end of the 1990s, the EU has launched (or jointly organized with the Council of Europe) several initiatives that explicitly focus on promoting Europe’s cultural heritage. These initiatives for instance include the European Heritage Days, the European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage, and the European Heritage Label. During the past ten years, the EU’s emphasis on cultural heritage has increased as new heritage initiatives and policies have been launched to bind heritage management more closely to the other EU policy sectors and to enhance cultural dialogue and relations between people in Europe and beyond. These attempts were particularly important to the EU in 2018, when it celebrated the European Year of Cultural Heritage.

As a response to the recent turbulence in the grand narrative of nationalism (that is, its simultaneous “rupture” and reappearance), the EU has actively sought to construct and establish a new European narrative based on the supposed common heritage, values, and selected core events from the European past upon which Europeans could build their European identity. Initiatives that seek to identify and eventually find this kind of European shared past function as powerful tools in the EU’s identity politics, or its “politics of belonging” (cf. Littoz-Monnet 2012). Indeed, the fundamental aim of EU cultural policy in general, and EU heritage and memory initiatives in particular, is to invoke in Europeans a feeling of belonging to Europe and the EU, a sense of communality among Europeans, and a European identity.

Identity politics and the “politics of belonging” are an important part of the EU’s more general integration politics. In EU integration politics and policy discourse, cultural integration is noted as an important correlative of economic, judicial, and political integration (Bugge 2003, 70–71). European integration thus is a recurring topic in EU policy discourse on European heritage, history, and memory. As the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union’s position document claims: “appropriate preservation of historical memory, a comprehensive reassessment of European history and Europe-wide recognition of all historical aspects of modern Europe will strengthen European integration” (EP 2010, 27). Similarly, the Council of the European Union has stated that “cultural heritage is a major asset for Europe and an important component of the European project” (CofEU 2014, 1).

In terms of membership and geographical scope, the EU and the Council of Europe represent two different ideas of Europe. While after Brexit the EU includes 27 member states that are bound together through diverse administrative bonds and forms of integration, the Council has 47 member states whose societal, economic, political, cultural, and religious contexts differ greatly. Geographically, the Council represents a much broader idea of Europe, spreading further to the east than the EU and also including transcontinental states. Both actors, however, share an interest in enhancing European identity, culture, and heritage that their members are assumed to represent.

Together, the heritage-policy discourses of the Council of Europe and the EU can be said to represent a European-level “Authorized Heritage Discourse” (AHD). This concept, introduced by Smith (2006) and developed by her and her colleagues, refers to heritage as “part of a wider social practice that has been specifically developed to regulate the management of heritage, often with reference to strict laws and prescriptive procedures” (Waterton and Smith 2006, 13). In AHD, heritage is not only managed and regulated by formal legislation, “but also by a discursive pressure to conform to what appears to be the normalcy” as Waterton and Smith suggest (2006, 13). Indeed, the administrative authorities’ heritage discourse and legislation do not commonly question or problematize the idea of heritage. Transforming such an AHD’s substantial emphasis is a slow process, as it involves many administrative actors and develops through multistage administrative procedures. Through its administrative—and thus also its symbolic—power, this AHD produces and maintains what is considered to be heritage in society. The AHD also naturalizes the AHD’s representation and understanding of the past. Smith (2006) describes how this discourse often promotes a consensus approach to history, smoothing over the possible conflicts and social differences between people. The AHD of the Council of Europe and the EU seeks to find common views on Europe’s history and culture, advocate a particular European narrative, promote the idea of a common cultural heritage, and foster an identity based upon them all. This AHD enables the very notion of a European cultural heritage and determines what is the right or normal way to narrate its contents and values, as the chapters by Katja Mäkinen and Johanna Turunen in this volume indicate.

European Heritage-Policy Discourses as Tools to Tackle Contemporary Challenges

For the AHD of the Council of Europe and the EU, the notion of heritage functions as a form of governance that seeks to structure and master space, people, material worlds, and time (cf. Winter 2015, 998). This governance is implemented through linguistic and conceptual choices, such as referring to the idea of a common cultural heritage in Europe without any discussion on the dissonances and conceptual, ideological, and political limitations that this idea entails. A common point of departure in this AHD is to bind together the idea of European history, heritage, identity, and values, and represent their connection as unquestioned and unproblematic. This connection is for example emphasized in the Council of Europe’s resolution on the Cultural Routes Programme. In this programme, already launched in 1987, the Council of Europe awards the title of Cultural Routes to concrete routes or less concrete networks that the Council interprets as promoting shared culture, history, memory, and European integration. The resolution lists the basis of the programme as follows:

Considering that highlighting the influences, exchanges and developments which have formed the European identity can facilitate awareness of a European citizenship based on the sharing of common values;

Considering that it is essential for younger generations to acquire this awareness of a European identity and citizenship and the common values on which they are based;

Considering that in order to uphold these common values and make them more tangible, it is necessary to promote an understanding of Europe’s history on the basis of its physical, intangible and natural heritage, so as to bring out the links which unite its various cultures and regions. (CofE 2007, 1)

The rhetoric in the above extract clearly naturalizes the existence of a unity based on Europe’s common history, heritage, identity, and values, and presents as natural the need and necessity to promote this unity. It also introduces the notion of “awareness”, which presupposes that certain types of identity and citizenship exist, and that people, particularly young ones, should become aware of them. In general, the AHD of the Council of Europe and the EU commonly brings up and appeals to particular shared European values. In the extract, these “values”—or rather a group of societal ideals and political principles of liberal democratic societies—are perceived as being manifested in Europe’s cultural heritage, but also as being a kind of heritage themselves. For example, in the Faro Convention the Council of Europe defines the “common heritage of Europe” as consisting of:
  1. a.

    all forms of cultural heritage in Europe which together constitute a shared source of remembrance, understanding, identity, cohesion and creativity, and

  2. b.

    the ideals, principles and values, derived from the experience gained through progress and past conflicts, which foster the development of a peaceful and stable society, founded on respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law. (CofE 2005a, Article 3)


In the AHD of the Council of Europe and the EU, the promotion of Europe’s cultural heritage turns into a promotion of values—and eventually into a promotion of liberal democratic social and political order. The emphasis on these values also brings up their counterpart. As the rhetoric in the Faro Convention exemplifies, the fostering of these values derives from past conflicts that ought to be avoided.

Europe’s twentieth-century history of war and conflict, particularly World War II, the Holocaust, and totalitarian regimes in general have gained a lot attention in the heritage and memory politics of the Council of Europe and the EU. The Council of Europe introduced of a “Day of Holocaust Remembrance and Prevention of Crimes against Humanity”, launched in 2002, and has supported the development of various educational programs dedicated to Holocaust remembrance and teaching the conflict history of Europe. Similarly, the EU has emphasized the need to increase the awareness of the Holocaust, and with the EU’s Eastern expansion also the awareness of the crimes of communist regimes. Since 2006, both the European Commission and the Parliament have launched several programs, initiatives, and resolutions that seek to promote the remembrance of the victims of totalitarian and authoritarian regimes in Europe (Prutsch 2013). In 2008, the European Parliament declared a “European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism” to jointly mourn all victims of the past totalitarian and authoritarian regimes in Europe.

In recent years, both actors have also promoted the reconciliation of more recent conflicts through heritage initiatives that seek to reconstruct and conserve damaged or demolished tangible heritage, and to create cooperation and respectful interaction between conflicting cultural, ethnic, and religious communities. For example, in the project “Ljubljana Process: Rehabilitating our Common Heritage”, jointly funded by the Council of Europe and the EU, numerous monuments and heritage sites were restored in Albania and the countries of former Yugoslavia in order to create relationships between diverse local stakeholders and to enhance stability, development, and economic growth in the region (RCC, TFCS Secretariat 2014). The Ljubljana Process, just like several other recent heritage projects by the EU and the Council of Europe, has its basis in the policy goals of respecting cultural diversity and promoting intercultural dialogue.

Tackling Challenges: The Council of Europe

The recent policy discourse of the Council of Europe includes both implicit and explicit attempts to recognize, react to, and tackle exclusion, tensions, and conflicts in contemporary societies through heritage. The Faro Convention includes a conceptual innovation that seeks to deconstruct the previously territorially defined notion of heritage and detach it from so-called “thick” identities, which are based on the idea of traditionally, territorially, and historically rooted shared features and cultural elements (on the concept, see e.g. Delanty 2003; Davidson 2008; Terlouw 2012). As much as they build identities up, these elements also simultaneously divide people by excluding others. Instead of using vocabulary that might deepen or create divisions between different groups of people, the Council of Europe’s Faro Convention introduces the concept of a “heritage community” that “consists of people who value specific aspects of cultural heritage which they wish, within the framework of public action, to sustain and transmit to future generations” (CofE 2005a, Article 2). As Dolff-Bonekämper (2009, 71) has noted, the Convention’s rhetoric does not evoke the traditional relationship of heritage to specific local, regional, or national territorial units, nor does it refer to any social or societal parameters such as national, ethnic, religious, cultural, linguistic, or class-based groups. The only social and territorial unit to which heritage is connected in the Convention is Europe.

The Explanatory Report of the Faro Convention explains that belonging to a heritage community is due to a “thin” tie: “One can be a member of a heritage community simply by valuing a cultural heritage or wishing to pass it on. Individual incapacity may prevent action or even physical contact with the cultural heritage in question without invalidating an individual’s right to identify with that community” (CofE 2005b, 6). This easy and voluntary nature of belonging to a heritage community has been welcomed by various heritage professionals and scholars. Dolff-Bonekämper (2009, 71), for example, has emphasized how the notion of a heritage community enables individuals to

opt to belong to several communities, sequentially or at the same time, as they move through topographical and social space, for these communities are not exclusive and involve no obligation in terms of identity. Individuals (alone) may feel an attachment to a heritage in a place where they are, where they are not, or where they are no longer, depending on their geographical mobility or immobility.

The concept of a heritage community can also be explored from a more critical point of view. The conceptual innovation of the Council of Europe’s policy discourse in itself does not provide individuals automatic access to any community. Indeed, this type of belonging presupposes that access (cf. Anthias 2009), and access is not only a matter of choice. Minorities and marginalized and oppressed people are often confronted with explicit and implicit inequalities, discrimination, and exclusion caused by limited or blocked access to belonging to a community (Lähdesmäki et al. 2016). Individuals may want to belong to a certain heritage community, but others do not allow them to. According to nativist, xenophobic, and racists views, for example, belonging to a (national) heritage community may require having the “right” ethnic, religious, or cultural roots. The idea of a heritage community has various positive connotations, such as “giving a voice” to individuals in heritage matters and enabling the expression and promotion of alternative, suppressed, silenced, or marginalized memories and heritages. However, the concept does not solve the problem of “representing” a particular community. It does not explicitly define who can serve as a spokesperson of a community.

In general, the Faro Convention’s idea of a heritage community imagines these communities and their heritages as coexisting happily. Its Article four reminds the reader that “everyone, alone or collectively, has the responsibility to respect the cultural heritage of others as much as their own heritage, and consequently the common heritage of Europe” (CofE 2005a, Article 4). Although this kind of policy discourse rhetorically seeks to dissolve the dissonance between heritage communities, the discourse does not take a critical stand against traditional notions of heritage as such, nor does it try to resolve tensions and contradictions within any heritage. Indeed, the discourse also does not take into account that the notion of common heritage in Europe also includes exclusive, oppressive, and discriminative content, for example deriving from colonialist, imperialist, Eurocentric, and elitist narratives. Not all heritage is worthy of respect. The Council of Europe’s Namur Declaration—which introduced the European Cultural Heritage Strategy for the twenty-first century—emphasizes “cultural heritage as an ideal means of transmitting values through the generations” (CofE 2015a, 3), but not all values embedded in cultural heritage are worth maintaining and transmitting into the future. Ferracuti (2017) claims that several European countries have not ratified the Faro Convention due to this very ambiguity and vagueness of the concept of the heritage community.

Since the beginning of the 2000s, the Council of Europe’s policy discourse has promoted “intercultural dialogue” as a tool to tackle tensions and conflicts between individuals and groups, resulting in policy initiatives such as the White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue (2008). The concept is also used in the Council’s heritage-policy discourse that seeks to “promote intercultural and interfaith dialogue and mutual understanding of differences, with a view to prevention of conflicts” (CofE 2005b, 2). Critical analyses of the uses of the concept of intercultural dialogue in the Council’s policy discourse have, however, indicated that the concept itself embraces power hierarchies. The meaning of the concept is produced from a hegemonic point of view, which generates power positions of a dialoguer and dialoguee to the “intercultural dialogue”. As Lähdesmäki’s and Wagener’s (2015) analysis of this white paper indicates, immigrants and minority communities commonly represent the dialoguees in the policy discourse, the people to whom Europe’s culture has to be delivered and introduced in order to make them the other part of the dialogue. As a policy, intercultural dialogue aims at the more effective integration in European societies that is, according to the white paper, “needed to allow immigrants to participate fully in the life of the host country. Immigrants should, as everybody else, abide by the laws and respect the basic values of European societies and their cultural heritage” (CofE 2008, 11). The white paper acknowledges museums and heritage sites as actors and spaces that have the potential to enhance intercultural dialogue. Yet, on closer inspection, the white paper seems too one-sided and uncritical in its view on cultural heritage for this potential to be tapped:

Exploring Europe’s cultural heritage can provide the backdrop to the plural European citizenship required in contemporary times. Europe’s historical transborder and continental routes, today rediscovered with the help of the Council of Europe as the network of “cultural routes”, influenced the history of cultural relations and for centuries supported intercultural exchange; they provide access to Europe’s multicultural heritage and illustrate the ability to live together peacefully in diversity. (CofE 2008, 33)

Instead of a critical discussion of past hierarchical inequalities and forms of dominance that still influence social relations between the various groups in today’s European societies, the policy discourse in the white paper emphasizes promoting a consensual and conciliatory interpretation of Europe’s cultural heritage.

In practice, the white paper seeks to promote intercultural dialogue by introducing five policy approaches on how European societies and their various actors could “offer opportunities for dialogue” with “newcomers”. These approaches discursively distinguish between an us and a them, dialoguers and dialogues . Their encounter can also turn into conflict if the latter refuse the dialogue, as the following lines from the white paper indicate:

Intercultural dialogue is not a cure for all evils and an answer to all questions, and one has to recognise that its scope can be limited. It is often pointed out, rightly, that dialogue with those who refuse dialogue is impossible, although this does not relieve open and democratic societies of their obligation to constantly offer opportunities for dialogue. On the other hand, dialogue with those who are ready to take part in dialogue but do not – or do not fully – share “our” values may be the starting point of a longer process of interaction, at the end of which an agreement on the significance and practical implementation of the values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law may very well be reached. (CofE 2008, 17)

During the 2010s, the Council of Europe has also paid attention to the role of heritage in tackling diverse ethnic conflicts. In the resolution on “Cultural Heritage in Crisis and Post-Crisis Situations”, the Council’s Parliamentary Assembly expresses a concern for “the deliberate eradication of culture, identity and existence of the ‘other’ through a systematic destruction of cultural heritage” that “has become a central component of modern conflicts that are ethnically driven” (CofE 2015b, 1). The text notes the potential of heritage in “conflict resolution” and “reconciliation and creating social cohesion”, and how “it can also be misused to reignite division and hatred” (CofE 2015b, 1). The Council’s general policy discourse on crises and post-crises does not single out or focus on any particular crises or territories, but the reports on the Council of Europe’s website indicate that the preparation of the policy particularly stems from experiences from former Yugoslavia, Cyprus, Georgia, and Azerbaijan.

In recent years, crises have gotten emphasized more and more in the heritage-policy discourse of the Council of Europe. The Namur Declaration specifically notes that: “Climate change, demographic changes, migration, political, economic, financial and social crises are having a significant impact on our societies and heritage” (CofE 2015a, 1). These changes and crises are perceived to carry the risk of rupturing and imploding “our societies”, as the Namur Declaration states:
  1. 1.

    […] We need to be aware of these challenges and work together to prevent a development where our societies are weakened and lack points of reference, are tempted to adopt inward-looking attitudes, are experiencing an erosion of traditional bonds and sometimes risk rupturing or imploding.

  2. 2.

    Cultural heritage is a key component of the European identity; it is of general public interest and its transmission to future generations is a shared responsibility; it is a unique resource, fragile, non-renewable and non-relocatable, contributing to the attractiveness and the development of Europe and, crucially, to the creation of a more peaceful, just and cohesive society.

  3. 3.

    A Strategy for redefining the place and role of cultural heritage in Europe is therefore a necessary response to the current challenges in the light of the changing European socio-economic and cultural context. (CofE 2015a, 1)


As a response to the threats posed by various recent crises, the Namur Declaration proposes a European-level heritage strategy that seeks to transmit cultural heritage—and at the same time European identity, which is supposedly based on that heritage—to future generations in order to create a more cohesive society. Overall, its policy discourse suggests a static and invariant conception of cultural heritage: it cannot be renewed, nor can its location be changed. Thus, cultural heritage is considered to be fragile; instead of heritage being conceived as itself constantly changing, plural, and dissonant, its uniqueness is perceived to be threatened by the dissonance caused by recent crises.

Tackling Challenges: The EU

The EU’s heritage-policy discourse reflects and follows the core emphases of the Council of Europe’s discourse. Like the Namur Declaration, the EU’s heritage-policy discourse defines heritage as a static phenomenon confronted with various challenges in today’s Europe. The Council Conclusions on Participatory Governance of Cultural Heritage indicates this by claiming that: “cultural heritage as a non-renewable resource that is unique, non-replaceable or non-interchangeable is currently confronted with important challenges related to cultural, environmental, social, economic and technological transformations that affect all aspects of contemporary life” (CofEU 2014, 1). If cultural heritage is understood as a static, unique, and non-renewable phenomenon, transculturation, cultural hybridity, and reinterpretations of heritage may indeed pose a threat to it. This kind of conception of cultural heritage thus rather creates challenges than that it makes it possible to respond to such challenges. The EU’s heritage-policy discourse emphasizes the challenging momentum in Europe, where “the heritage sector is at a crossroads” and is “facing challenges” ranging from the decrease of public budgets to climate change (EC 2014, 4). The policy discourses does not, however, recognize the challenges embedded in the very idea of common cultural heritage and European identity as such, nor does it seem to be aware of exclusive power structures that these ideas and their use may entail.

The EU’s heritage-policy discourse utilizes many of the same conceptual choices that were introduced by the Council of Europe, emphasizing heritage as a vehicle for “democratic participation”, “intercultural dialogue”, and “social cohesion”. In the EU’s heritage-policy rhetoric, these aims are intertwined with more general goals of promoting European integration (Lähdesmäki 2014). While the Council emphasized the communal dimension of cultural heritage using the concept of a heritage community, the EU’s heritage-policy discourse utilizes the concept of belonging in its identity-political aims. Through its heritage initiatives, such as the European Heritage Label, the EU seeks to strengthen “European citizens’ sense of belonging to the Union, in particular that of young people, based on shared values and elements of European history and cultural heritage, as well as an appreciation of national and regional diversity” (EP and CofEU 2011, 3). According to the EU’s heritage-policy rhetoric, the ideas of strengthening people’s belonging to “a wider community” and promoting intercultural dialogue are closely connected, as—according to the EU’s Council Conclusions on Participatory Governance of Cultural Heritage—heritage “has the capacity to […] promote diversity and intercultural dialogue by contributing to a stronger sense of ‘belonging’ to a wider community and a better understanding and respect between peoples” (CofEU 2014, 2). That quotation evinces a desire for more understanding and respect between “peoples”, not between individuals or groups within a people. The vocabulary thus treats and construct a people as a coherent entity.

Recently, the EU has emphasized the role of heritage in its external relations and embraced it as a form of public or cultural diplomacy (as EU policy documents call it). The European Commission’s communication “Towards an EU Strategy for International Cultural Relations” lists three main strands of these relations, the last of which focuses on “reinforcing cooperation on cultural heritage” (EC 2016, 3). The aim of this is to “stimulate inter-cultural dialogue and peace-building, support cultural production and tourism as drivers of development and economic growth, and use education, research and science as agents for dialogue and exchanges” (EC 2016, 15–16). The strategy also has more self-serving political goals, as the actions suggested in its main strands are expected to “contribute to making the European Union a stronger global actor, a better international partner and a stronger contributor to sustainable growth, peace and mutual understanding” (EC 2016, 16).

The EU is increasingly making an effort to strengthen its heritage-related cooperation with others, to use heritage in conflict resolution, and to reconcile conflicts and dissonances among different groups outside the borders of the EU (Lähdesmäki et al. 2019). These actions can be said to rely on two different approaches to diplomacy, which Winter (2015) has described as “heritage in diplomacy” and “heritage as diplomacy”. Under the first approach, the EU is coordinating various heritage-related initiatives and projects as a part of other diplomatic actions with its partner countries. In addition, the EU finances conservation work and conservation- and preservation-related capacity building in these countries. In these cases, diplomatic actions do not depend on the notion of mutual or shared heritage as a mediator of relations (Winter 2015, 1010). The second approach, heritage as diplomacy, draws on the idea that we should foster shared heritage and build of bridges by identifying shared pasts. Winter (2015, 1011) has noted how states around the world are using a rhetoric of “shared heritage” to semantically shift material culture from a category that is considered dissonant to one that that is perceived to be more productive. Various contemporary powers and former colonial powers are discursively framing certain material culture as “shared heritage” in order to create forms of historical and cultural unity, and to give more diplomatic weight to their contemporary international relations (Winter 2015, 1011). The EU’s emphasis on common values, cultural ties, and shared heritage seeks to articulate the historical and present-day connections with its external partner countries, thus also justifying the EU’s cultural diplomatic actions with these countries.

Threats and Possibilities of European Heritage-Policy Discourses

What kinds of threats and possibilities do the EU’s and the Council of Europe’s heritage-policy discourses present for heritage management in today’s Europe? In general, the cultural emphasis on “European identity” and the notions of a common past and shared cultural roots as markers of “Europeanness” can all be used to justify discriminative discourses and actions, as the rhetoric of the European extreme-right, populist, and new nationalist movements and parties already indicates. A cultural emphasis on “European identity” thus promotes social exclusion and a sense of not belonging among those who feel that they do not share or have access to the correct European cultural roots or cultural markers.

The concept and idea of cultural heritage is never neutral in any discourse, as it is always represented and defined from some perspective. One of the threats of strengthening the European-level AHD is its power to represent certain ideas, values, ideals, and political principles as natural and thus to legitimize action promoting them. This understanding of cultural heritage raises various questions about the EU’s and the Council of Europe’s interests in heritage diplomacy and cooperative projects with non-European countries. A threat is that these projects and diplomatic actions also narrowly promote Eurocentric values and notions of cultural heritage.

Several scholars have pointed out how the notion of heritage and its relation to materiality differs between Western and non-Western cultures (e.g. Wei and Aass 1989; Byrne 1991; Stille 2002; Akagawa 2015). In Europe, the emphasis on the materiality of heritage stems from the intellectual and scholarly movements of the Enlightenment and their desire to preserve material cultural relics (Byrne 1991). During the age of Enlightenment in particular, collecting cultural objects turned into a means to measure, order, and grasp the world (Gillman 2006). The emphasis on the materiality of heritage only strengthened during the nineteenth century, fueled by a fear of losing the material traces of the past caused by the Industrial Revolution (Wei and Aass 1989). Western notions of authenticity and originality are more closely connected to materiality and historical continuity of material traces than the way those concepts are used in non-Western traditions (Stille 2002; Akagawa 2015). Moreover, the idea of the materiality of heritage is intertwined with the Western conception of identity. The widespread linkage between a durable tangible heritage and the continuity of people across generations is implicit—and often also explicit—in the Western world, especially in Europe, as Macdonald (2006) notes. In this conception, material culture as heritage is understood not simply as representing and transmitting an identity but also as materializing and objectifying it (Macdonald 2006, 11). According to this conception, the idea of an identity extends from an abstract mindset of people to also include cultural representations; material objects thus function as manifestations of identities and as a means to construct them. Future analysis of the effects of European heritage diplomacy will have to indicate whether it also transmits and disseminates these materialist and preservationist values of heritage to its non-European partner countries, and whether it thus continues or even recreates European cultural hegemony in this sense.

Besides these threats, the heritage-policy discourses of the EU and the Council of Europe also offer numerous possibilities to positively influence and respond to the present challenges in Europe. These possibilities concretize in the implementation of the EU’s and the Council of Europe’s initiatives at the local level. Although the notion of a common cultural heritage in Europe is problematic, it may also enable bypassing the tensions and controversies that are attached to heritage at the national and regional levels, and offer a more broad, abstract, and flexible framework to perceive heritage and its meanings in today’s Europe. It may thus enable a feeling of belonging and inclusion for a transnational and culturally plural community, the boundaries of which are less strict than those of a nation or an ethnic, religious, or linguistic community, thus activating new European identities that are agile and flexible enough to react to the transformation and pluralization of Europe. The Council of Europe’s concept of a heritage community particularly suggests that the idea of belonging can be approached from an agile point of view. Besides its limitations and practical weaknesses, discussed above, the concept does also present possibilities in that it stresses the power of civil agents to create communities and define the values of heritage. This kind of approach to the ideas of communality and belonging reflects the nature of the Council of Europe as a bigger, more heterogeneous, and institutionally looser organization compared to the EU.

The European-level heritage policies are a good—if rather underdeveloped in its current state—arena to respond to various transnational challenges and to address meanings and values of cultural heritage that are “more than national” or post-national. This arena presents the possibility to deconstruct the hegemonic grand narratives that include a discriminative ethos towards various “others”. To utilize this opportunity, European-level heritage-policy discourse could for example benefit from a notion of European cultural heritage that Delanty (2010, 2017) has described as “cosmopolitan”. For him (2010, 16–17), the idea of a cosmopolitan heritage stems from a plural notion of the European civilizational constellation—that is, from the idea of transcontinental and inter-civilizational encounters and from a notion of the internal pluralization of not only the European civilization(s) but also those of non-European civilizations.

The EU’s and the Council of Europe’s heritage-policy discourses reflect the participatory turn in heritage management. The emphasis on civil participation and engagement with heritage practices and processes presents the opportunity to promote a new kind of perception of heritage: heritage as communication. This kind of approach to heritage turns it into a space for conversation and a resource for reflection, interaction, and recognition (Bodo 2016). Kisić (2017, 31) has referred to this communicative dimension of heritage by emphasizing the need for an “inclusive heritage discourse” in which “dissonance is acknowledged, and the possibility for different voicing is recognized”. For her,

[t]his discourse allows that heritage can be talked about and worked with in ways that give space for articulating diverse meanings. As such, dissonance can empower de-naturalization of heritage, foster critical thinking and create opportunities for intense intercultural mediation. (Kisić 2017, 31)

The dissonant meanings, values, and narratives of cultural heritage can thus be seen as enabling both a deeper understanding of that heritage and a critical understanding of how heritage emerges and is actively created and redefined.

The EU and the Council of Europe’s emphasis on the concept of intercultural dialogue seeks to frame cultural heritage as a space for conversation. This understanding of cultural heritage also forms the basis for the EU’s heritage diplomatic efforts. In the EU’s heritage-policy discourse, cultural/public diplomacy refers to cooperation with the EU’s external relations and thus focuses on territories outside the EU, while the concept of intercultural dialogue particularly refers to interaction and relations within EU societies and in the EU community. In today’s world characterized by the movement of people, global communication, and multidimensional cultural interactions, however, that distinction between external and internal relationships is difficult to draw. Indeed, these two kinds of relationships should be perceived and treated as closely intertwined. The EU’s internal relations would in fact also benefit from enhancing heritage diplomacy within the EU.


As we have seen, the EU and the Council of Europe have both sought to react to the transforming European reality in their heritage-policy discourses . One of the core focuses of these policy discourses is the “politics of belonging” through which the EU and the Council of Europe seek to enhance social cohesion, people’s feeling of belonging and inclusion, as well as—in the case of the EU—integration in Europe. The heritage-policy discourses of both actors particularly focus on encouraging civil participation in, and engagement with, the preservation and valorization of heritage and on enhancing access to heritage—a goal that is, however, often only superficially addressed in the policy texts by treating access narrowly, as a matter of digitization, licensing, intellectual property rights, and dissemination of digitized material. The aim of enhancing people’s feeling of belonging and inclusion in Europe furthermore contradicts with the policy rhetoric that creates, maintains, or enhances a distinction between “us” and “them”.

The policy discourses of the EU and the Council of Europe seek to promote Europe’s cultural heritage and common values as its basis. Although both actors actively seek to tackle dissonances between different groups in Europe through heritage-related actions, their policy discourses do not problematize the notions of shared European culture, history, memory, heritage, or values, nor do they tackle the dissonances that these notions may entail. The discourses do not seek to deconstruct or critically rethink the geographical, cultural, political, socio-economic, or religious power hierarchies that these notions involve, nor do they problematize whose culture, history, memory, heritage, and values are explicitly and implicitly perceived as European.

Since 2000, the EU’s and the Council of Europe’s heritage-policy discourses have increasingly turned their interest from preservation and conservation to the effects that cultural heritage has on societies, communities, and individuals. Recent policy discourses treat cultural heritage as an instrument of multi- and inter-sectoral politics whose political feasibility is based on an epistemological change in understanding heritage. Instead of treating heritage as a mere cultural category or as a question of preserving material traces of the past, the recent European heritage-policy discourses have turned heritage into a resource impacting various sectors of governance, ranging from economics to sustainable development, and from integration of migrants to European external relations. As a result of this epistemological change, European heritage-policy discourses increasingly perceive heritage as being about communication—both communication within a community and between communities. It is framed as a dialogical space to increase knowledge about others—but also to rethink oneself. European heritage-policy discourses thus also function as a signpost or a roadmap that presents a possibility to bring about action. This possibility concretizes through actors below the European level whose task is to turn policy into practice. The challenges in the implementation of the European heritage policies are further discussed in the chapters by Katja Mäkinen, Sigrid Kaasik-Krogerus, and Johanna Turunen in this volume.



This work was supported by the Academy of Finland under Grant SA274295 (EUCHE) and by the European Research Council (ERC) under the EU’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under Grant 636177 (EUROHERIT). The work is also related to the University of Jyväskylä’s profiling area supported by the Academy of Finland under Grant SA311877 (CRISES). The content of this chapter does not reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Responsibility for the information and views expressed in the chapter lies entirely with the author.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Music, Art and Culture StudiesUniversity of JyväskyläJyväskyläFinland

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