The Blue Shield’s work is founded on the belief that cultural heritage – tangible and intangible – is important. It is a vital expression of the culture that makes up unique communities and its loss during conflict and disaster can be catastrophic.
Why do we feel more pain looking at the image of the destroyed bridge than the image of massacred people? Perhaps because we see our own mortality in the collapse of the bridge. We expect people to die; we count on our lives to end. The destruction of a monument to civilisation is something else. The bridge in all its beauty and grace was built to outline us; it was an attempt to grasp eternity … A dead woman is one of us – but the bridge is all of us forever.
Croatian writer Slavenka Drauliç
in Bevan (2006): The Destruction of Memory. Reaktion Books; p26
Cultural heritage is the heritage we have inherited: our legacy, our memories, physical places, objects and intangible beliefs and practices, and so much more. Intangible heritage can often be associated with particular tangible cultural heritage. For example, placing poppies on a war memorial is a practice commemorating an event, but it takes place at a physical location. In Australia, many aboriginal groups have detailed practices passed down for many generations which are integral components of places in the landscape. Our heritage – physical and non-physical – is an important part of who we are and what we identify with, as individuals and communities.
This cultural identity relies on the memory of communities and individuals: it is key to identity, well-being, decisions and actions. Although memories are not always positive, and can be contested, they are an integral part of individuals, communities and societies. Cultural property is a powerful tool in determining what is remembered – and what is forgotten or obscured. For example, after conflicts and disasters, buildings can provide visible symbols of who is given priority in rebuilding if the community is divided – or who is not given permission at all.
Blue Shield strives to prevent the loss of heritage to communities, recognising that it is a fundamental part of their wellbeing. There are several key reasons for this.