Heimsminjaskrá UNESCO

Málþing um heimsminjar
Laugarvatni 10. ágúst 1997

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure and honour for me to address you on this occasion and open the seminar on world heritage in the Nordic Countries. We welcome you all to Iceland and hope you enjoy your stay.

As we all know the objective of the UNESCO Convention concerning World Heritage is to protect irreplacable expressions of former cultures and of natural landscapes of great importance and beauty. A truly relevant aim in the age of new technologies, cyberspace and virtual landscapes.

The hosting this important seminar here in Iceland has given my Ministry and the Ministry for the Environment a unique and pleasant opportunity to cooperate with the Nordic World Heritage Office in Oslo. Although the office was not opened until 1st of January last year it has already made a strong impact in all our countries. And by this seminar the Office is embarking upon a new road which I hope will make it easier for all of us to achieve the objective of UNESCO in this important field. We appreciate the fact that the seminar is held in our country as the best welcome we could get into the group of nations that have ratified the World Heritage Convention.

Allow me to use this moment to confirm my pleasure of having been the Icelandic Minister responsible for our late ratification of Convention. By that we not only took a due political decision but also underlined our willingness to strengthen the Nordic cooperation in this field within UNESCO.

The Nordic World Heritage Office in Oslo, which is the first of its kind in the world, is a pilot project which should lead to further similar cooperation around the world. By increased contacts in the cultural field and greater cultural tolerance we will strengthen peace and increase stability, the ultimate aim of the United Nations. In Iceland we are considering how we can best become more active in the work of the Office.

Some of our more romantic Nordic friends tend to think of us Icelanders as a museum of their old culture. I hope that during your stay you will see that we do not live in a stagnat society. Isolation has always been the greatest threat to Icelandic culture and now we are more open than ever before. In many ways our society differs from the other Nordic ones and in my wiew we are in a sense more westward-looking than those in Scandinavia, as we were moving to the west when we left Norway and in the end found both Greenland and North America. Still we are very conscious of our history, national identity and heritage. By cultivating our old cultural heritage we have the inner strength as a small nation to demand our place on the world arena.

Last year it was my pleasure to be the host of Mr. Federico Mayor, Director-General of UNESCO, and his wife here in Iceland. He addressed a seminar on the implementation of the World Heritage Convention and reminded us of his idea on the memory of the future, that is we should look upon our cultural heritage as an instrument for a better future. If we sat down to take stock of what all humanity had in common it would become clear to all of us, that it is our future.

By taking care of the environment and looking after beautiful natural sites or historical monuments we are preparing for the future as we want to hand them over for the enjoyment of those who follow us.

As I hope you will see and feel when you travel in Iceland, we can relate our history and the sagas to certain beautiful places and landscapes, although there are neither old buildings nor monmuments to been seen. This is so deeply rooted in us that we have really forgotten to set up the necessary signs for others to realize what historic sites they are visiting. The same can be said about places of natural value, we have to present them to visitors in a more professional manner.

Last week a complete set of the Icelandic Sagas in English was published for the first time since they were written some 800 years ago. This is truly an historic event and I am convinced it will make many more aware of the great international cultural value of the Sagas. We tend to define cultural heritage as monuments, architecture and cultural landscapes. By translating the Sagas into English an other languages we draw the attention to the old Icelandic manuscripts and their importance to the world cultural heritage, although we are hardly able to nominate them on the world heritage list as they are neither "monuments", "groups of buildings" nor "sites". Perhaps this is something to be debated at your seminar while here in Iceland? Are there other parts of our cultural heritage, that do not come under the definition of the World Heritage Convention? The protection of the immaterial cultural heritage, such as language, folk music and folklore is most important.

Ladies and Gentlemen!

Again I wish you all welcome to Iceland.

I would like to thank all who organised this seminar. My special thanks go to the Nordic Council of Ministers for its crucial financial support.

You have many important issues to debate while you are here, but we still hope that you will also have time to see some of what Iceland has to offer.