Heritage should primarily be used to develop the social, economic and cultural domains, improve the quality of life and foster the competitiveness of cities and regions. This report identified the following actors working in heritage: state bodies, state cultural institutions (including museums), restorers and urban planners, NGOs and informal initiatives and commercial companies. The report is based on more than 30 interviews with experts and research trips to Minsk, Hrodna, Brest, Mstislaw, Nesvizh, and Ashmyany. Data from open sources was used extensively.
The report is structured around the overall potential of heritage in three domains:
- Social: Key actors of the sector in Belarus have succeeded in implementing relevant best practice (working with heritage communities, stimulating and supporting grassroots initiatives, social inclusion and mobilisation). A trend towards decentralisation of heritage management has emerged with the adoption of the Culture Code in 2016. Networks for disseminating methods and exchanging information have been created both among NGOs and among state institutions (but not between the two). The wide network of state cultural institutions that have established relations with the public is noteworthy.
At the same time, most organisations (both non-governmental and governmental) use a top-down approach, and their events bear an educational and even a didactic character. Regional organisations do not have the resources to create quality projects, and they require methodological assistance. Their work needs to be endued with additional meanings that are relevant to development goals. Frequent conflicts occur between grassroots initiatives and executive power bodies, grassroots initiatives and business, and grassroots initiatives and restorers.
- Economic: Belarus has successfully used heritage as a tool for developing its towns and territories (Nesvizh, Halshany and Brest). There are examples of successful businesses, effective inter-sectoral cooperation (primarily in eco-tourism and agrotourism) and receipt of grant (sponsor) funds. The best practice listed in this report demonstrates the existence of experts and professionals who have experience in dealing with new, non-traditional challenges.
However, this is only the beginning. In most cases inclusion of heritage in economic relations are based on very simple models such as providing services to tourists and selling souvenirs. More complex strategies are rarely used. The potential of heritage for the economy is only beginning to be realised now. A large part of investment into preservation is made intuitively without a developed methodology for validating results. The development of entrepreneurship and other economic indicators are not monitored. Work with heritage remains to be seen to a large extent as “charity” rather than as an investment.
- Cultural: Work with heritage in Belarus is part of ensuring citizens’ access to culture. Heritage-related projects contribute to strengthening of local identity, promoting development/self-development and expanding worldviews. The study of local and national heritage is included in curricula in schools, secondary and higher educational institutions. Addressing to heritage, especially in small towns, is one of the few possibilities to engage creatives in the cultural process.
Nevertheless, heritage in Belarus remains a personal hobby/interest or a means of satisfying academic curiosity, and a backdrop for entertainment, instead of fulfilling its numerous unifying and developing functions. Heritage is often something to pay ritual tribute, without real appropriation or re-thinking. The recognised intangible heritage is predominantly mono-ethnic, traditional and rural.
Based on a comprehensive analysis of the situation, the report sets forth both general actions necessary for increasing the effectiveness of heritage use, and specific goals for each of the three impacted domains individually; provides mechanisms most pertinent for Belarus for achieving these goals; defines key indicators of progress. The final part presents the author’s recommendations for working with the sector’s main actors for sector development.