Mutual Cultural Heritage Cooperation
Mutual Cultural Heritage (MCH) has been a prominant feature of Dutch International cultural policy since the year 2000. The Dutch government finds it important because activities related to this theme can help in gaining a better understanding of Dutch history and how this history is intricately intertwined with other countries' pasts.
It can be seen that heritage is often the foundation for bilateral relations and over the centuries the Netherlands have left behind many tangible and intangible traces of their presence abroad. This MCH policy aims to maintain this shared heritage through the encouragement of partnerships between Dutch and foreign institutions and experts.
The Dutch MCH refers to heritage located overseas which dates from the eras of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and the West India Company (WIC), as well as the colonial history and periods of close cultural, political and economic relations. The policy also includes any heritage within the Netherlands which is connected to other countries influencing and impacting upon Dutch culture.
The policy is the joint responsibility of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry for Education, Culture and Science of the Netherlands. There are three Dutch partners to the policy; the National Archives, The Netherlands Cultural Heritage Agency and Dutch Culture. On the international field there are 10 Dutch embassies across the world who are working with the policy from the respective priority countries.
Within the MCH policy, a number of so-called 'Priority Countries' are selected; these are countries within which the Netherlands have had intense historical relations with in the past, and as a result, have a wide variety of tangible and intangible heritage in that country which relates to the history of both the Netherlands and the priority country. Not every country which possesses heritage relating to the Dutch presence or relations is selected, the list is regularly updated and changed every few years, but it provides a foci around which organisations and individuals can build and foster co-creative and cooperative heritage projects together.
The policy was renewed once again for 2013-2016, with changes to the priority countries. The priority countries until 2016 are:
Previous priority countries include: Ghana
Summary of Policy Objectives
There are 3 main objectives of the policy 2013-2016:
1. Promoting International Relations
Shared heritage can be a starting point for international cooperation, and can often contribute towards global peace and security. Such cooperation can take place at bilateral or multilateral levels, between governments, institutions and individuals. International cooperation promotes intercultural dialogue and fosters a deeper understanding of cultural identity and solidarity between people.
2. Sustainable Preservation of Cultural Heritage
The policy holds that shared cultural heritage should be preserved physically. By working with partner countries to preserve it, we can foster critical reflection upon our history, as well as mutual understanding of our past, present and future. Efforts will be made to increase knowledge of shared cultural heritage, boost knowledge exchange, raise awareness, strengthen the local support base for sustainable preservation and to make heritage accessible to the general public. For the priority countries this can foster beneficial spin off effects on the local economy, on employment, tourism and education; therefore contributing indirectly to social development and quality of life, as well as raising the profile of the living environment.
3. The Netherlands' Interests
International collaboration in the area of shared cultural heritage offers opportunities for the Netherlands, as it can be seen that cooperation in the field of heritage can contribute towards public and economic diplomacy. Through the positioning of cultural heritage in the domain of international relations, we can profile the Netherlands more prominantly, and general goodwill. There is a connection between historic ties, trade etc. and positive economic relations today. Therefore it was decided to link cultural heritage policy with the policies for to leading economic sectors in the Netherlands; creative industries and water. Through the expansion of Dutch expertise, benefits are felt in Dutch cultural heritage through improved management and preservation. This shared cultural heritage also offers Dutch institutions opportunities for international collaboration and distinction in the areas of education, culture and science.
CIE and MCH
It must be recognised that not all countries interpret or feel the same way about MCH as the Netherlands. We must be sensitive to the fact that often these remnants of the Dutch presence can often have sensitive and at times painful associations also; linked to colonialism, conflict and political issues. Furthermore the term 'mutual' has often been contested, for instance in South Africa they prefer to use the term 'shared heritage' instead. We must treat each priority country individually and discuss with our partners in that country how to proceed, developing research and projects with the country not just 'for' or 'in' that country, otherwise the projects do not benefit either side and have no sustainability.
CIE is committed to stimulating public awareness and community involvement in order to foster long-term protection and valuation of this cultural heritage. We feel that capacity building is a necessity when dealing with these sites, to empower the local communities and allow them to take the lead in heritage activities relating to our shared past.