Vietnamese authorities should consult the community before drafting policies on conservation of the cultural heritage to reduce any possible clash with the modern way of life, Shimizu Akira, senior representative of the Japan International Cooperation Agency, which funds conservation activities in Vietnam, tells Vietweek.
Vietweek: Duong Lam Village residents have recently signed a petition asking to revoke their “Ancient Village” status since it prevents them from being able to repair their dilapidated homes. Do you know of any similar case anywhere else in the world?
Shimizu Akira: We don’t know of a similar case in the rest of the world, but we have heard of a similar case in Hoi An.
Around 1985-1991, just after Hoi An was designated as a national cultural heritage site, some families expressed dissatisfaction due to the strict conservation regulations.
To resolve the situation, Hoi An authorities took several measures. Firstly, government members visited each household to understand the problems and reasons for the dissatisfaction.
Secondly, Hoi An authorities created alternative measures based on residents’ opinions like providing land outside of the historic quarter etc., but the basic idea was to conserve the ancient quarter, not to change the conservation policy.
Hoi An also made a heritage homeowner’s preservation manual to guide heritage owners about appropriate management of historic houses.
How do you assess Vietnam’s efforts to preserve its heritage?
In Vietnam, due to rapid economic development and modernization, many cultural heritage sites and buildings have disappeared or changed completely. To address this situation and preserve the cultural heritage, the Law on Cultural Heritage was enacted in 2001 including a policy to protect the nation’s cultural heritage.
The law and practical conservation activities are relatively new to Vietnam. Thus, more practical experience might be necessary to preserve the cultural heritage.
The conservation efforts need to take the community’s opinions on board.
In our country, universities and researchers play an important role in heritage conservation. Before designating a cultural heritage site, universities do a scientific study to understand the tangible and intangible value of the cultural heritage. After doing the study, universities continue to research to find out about residents’ awareness, their sense of satisfaction about the living environment, etc.
Researchers can become a member of the committee for heritage conservation in each area, constantly attending workshops, coordinating community activities, and advising conservation work.
Conservation regulations often sharply contradict modern society’s development needs. What have other countries done to address this problem?
Conserving the cultural heritage and promoting modern life are sometimes in a state of confrontation.
In the case of Japan, the concept of balancing conservation of the cultural heritage with modern life has spread.
In this process, it is important to identify what is the importance of conservation, what should be preserved, what can be altered. Those ideas can be summarized into a ‘design code’ or ‘homeowner’s manual’ for conservation work.
In Japan, the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties was revised and a system of conservation of traditional buildings was introduced in 1975. The background of the enactment of the law is to take a countermeasure against the disappearance of historic landmarks, towns, and villages due to the rapid economic growth.
Local people and community have also begun a movement to protect the cultural heritage in many places in Japan. The system of conservation of traditional buildings was established to provide government support for the community’s actions. Under this system, the overall goal is to protect important cultural heritage areas but the methodology is on a case-by-case basis. Each place has a conservation plan, regulations, and committee comprised of local government and community to implement appropriate methods.
How can Vietnam mobilize the funds it needs for its heritage conservation efforts since there is always a shortage?
To obtain funding, there are some ways.
The state should subsidize the conservation of cultural relics. Japan has two kinds of systems. One is subsidy for the restoration of a historic house itself, the other is for developing the environment around the cultural heritage.
Investment by the private sector. For example, in an ancient town in Japan, the private sector bought a historic house and renovated it as a shop for tourists. It has become a successful heritage business model with private companies’ support.
Nonprofit organizations do fundraising.
A tourist tax is introduced in some places. This system is to use revenues from tourists and utilize it for the improvement of the life and environment of a local community.
What is the significance of preserving the cultural heritage to the future of a country like Vietnam?
Cultural heritage is easily lost while preserving it is not an easy task.
To bequeath the culture to the next generation, the conservation of one’s heritage is very important. The cultural heritage plays a key role in attracting visitors to the country because people want to see unique cultures and ways of life that have survived from a long time ago.
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