UNESCO proclaims song festivals as masterpieces

The traditional song festivals of the Baltic states have been proclaimed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization as one of 28 new “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.”

The Paris-based UNESCO’s proclamation is aimed at raising public awareness of cultural heritage, as well as to urge governments to safeguard it.

In naming the song festivals, UNESCO highlighted the historical importance of the events in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

But the organization also raised concerns about their future.

“Today’s principal threats stem from the rural exodus and the resulting break up of local amateur groups,” UNESCO said in a press release, “as well as the celebration’s exploitation by political parties and commercial concerns for advancing their particular agendas.”

UNESCO also added the cultures of Kihnu and Manija islands, off the coast of Estonia, to the list. The islands are inhabited by about 600 people whose geographic isolation has allowed them to preserve many traditional ways.

In 2001, in the first round of proclamations, UNESCO picked the tradition of cross crafting in Lithuania as one of the original 19 masterpieces.

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

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