UNESCO’s Quest to Save the World’s Intangible Heritage

Article by Julian Lucas:For decades, the organization has maintained a system that protects everything from Ukrainian borscht to Jamaican reggae. But what does it mean to “safeguard” living culture?…On December 7th, at a safari resort in Kasane, Botswana, Ukraine briefed the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on an endangered national treasure. It wasn’t a monastery menaced by air strikes. Nor was it any of the paintings, rare books, or other antiquities seized by Russian troops. It was borscht, a beet soup popular for centuries across Eastern Europe. Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, in February, 2022—as fields burned, restaurants shuttered, and expert cooks fled their homes—Kyiv successfully petitioned UNESCO to add its culture of borscht-making to the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding. Now, despite setbacks on the battlefield, the state of the soup was strong. A Ukrainian official reported on her government’s new borscht-related initiatives, such as hosting gastronomic festivals and inventorying vulnerable recipes. She looked forward to borscht’s graduation from Urgent Safeguarding to the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (I.C.H.) of Humanity—which grew, that session, to include Italian opera singing, Bangladeshi rickshaw painting, Angolan sand art, and Peruvian ceviche…(More)”.

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