The definition of Intangible Cultural Heritage

Since 2002, and alongside the international fermentations for the UNESCO Convention on the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, the Greek state adopted the term “intangible cultural goods” to establish the safeguarding of the cultural heritage that until then was described as “Traditional and modern folk culture”. The definition given by the Law 3028/2002 “On the Protection of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage in general” (Official Government Gazette 153 / Α ‘/ 28.6.2002) is that intangible cultural goods are expressions, activities, knowledge and information, such as myths, customs, oral traditions, dances, rituals, music, songs, skills or techniques which constitute testimonies of traditional, folk and literary culture.

The Convention goes one step further, giving, among other things, a paramount importance to the communities of bearers of intangible cultural heritage. According to the UNESCO Convention on the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003) the “intangible cultural heritage” means “Practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills, – as well as instruments, objects, artefacts, and cultural spaces associated therewith– that communities, groups and, in some cases individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage “(Article 2 (1).
With the Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, the new term is consolidated, while defining the main domains in which the Intangible Cultural Heritage may be manifested.
These domains are:
(a) oral traditions and expressions, including language as a vehicle of intangible cultural heritage (fairy tales, myths and narratives, narrative songs).
b) performing arts (dance, music, folk theater)
c) social practices, rituals and festive events (folk dances, customs practiced on annual basis, important stages in human life)
d) the knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe (traditional cultivation practices, ethno-botanical knowledge, popular perceptions of meteorology, etc.)
e) the know-how associated with traditional craftsmanship (weaving, pottery, woodworking etc.)

The issue of safeguarding language and religion under the 2003 Convention is worth mentioning. Language is an integral part of the intangible cultural heritage. However, in the preparation of the text of the Convention, the experts agreed that there should be no field /domain for language and that the field “oral traditions and expressions, including language as a vehicle of the intangible cultural heritage” includes policies for the safeguarding of special linguistic expressions (such as local dialects as these are captured through folk narratives and other narrative practices). Although a local language, a dialect, or even a jargon cannot be proposed for inscription on the UNESCO Lists, it can be protected through a range of safeguarding measures involving oral traditions, or oral transmission from generation to generation of traditional know-how .

UNESCO has created the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger for the protection and promotion of linguistic diversity.
A significant number of expressions and elements of intangible cultural heritage, especially social practices, ritual ceremonies that aim to guarantee a good year and folk customs and rites, as well as performing arts, include intense expressions of the religiosity of a community or are directly related to religious events and circumstances. However, it is not possible to inscribe religions on the Lists of the Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Unesco (2003).

Finally, each element of Intangible Cultural Heritage must “respond to existing international human rights instruments, as well as to the requirements for mutual respect among communities, groups and individuals, and of sustainable development” (article 2, par. 1). In other words, customary practices that relive memories of violent conflicts between members of the community or different communities, that exclude members of the community in a violent and degrading way by reason of their gender, age, occupation, status, sexual orientation, age or religion, cannot be recognized as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Customary practices involving ill-treatment or torture of animals cannot be included either.