Decision of the Intergovernmental Committee: 12.COM 11.E.2

The Committee

  1. Takes note that Bulgaria has proposed Bulgarian Chitalishte (Community Cultural Centre): practical experience in safeguarding the vitality of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (No. 00969) for selection and promotion by the Committee as a programme, project or activity best reflecting the principles and objectives of the Convention:

Bulgarian chitalishta (cultural community centres) are uniformly distributed across the whole territory of Bulgaria. They are established by communities themselves and are open to everyone irrespective of age, gender, political and religious views. The first chitalishta were established in 1856, and they have been recognized as a key organizational unit of Bulgarian society ever since. In accordance with the Chitalishta Act of 1996, chitalishta are non-governmental self-regulatory organizations. By law, they perform cultural and educational activities aimed at safeguarding the customs and traditions of Bulgarian people, ensuring access to information, distributing knowledge and familiarizing citizens with the values and achievements of science, arts and culture. Chitalishta are central to the process of transmitting intangible cultural heritage in the country, with elderly members playing a key role in encouraging young people to get involved. The efficiency of chitalishte is demonstrated by their increasing numbers over the years and the growing numbers of participants in their activities, representing all ages and population groups. With a view to popularizing and presenting intangible cultural heritage, chitalishta organize festivals, celebrations, gatherings, exhibitions and so on, and one innovative approach for developing chitalishta is the establishment of local centres for documenting, archiving and handing over knowledge and skills.

  1. Decides that, from the information included in the file, the programme responds as follows to the criteria for selection as a good safeguarding practice set out in paragraph 7 of the Operational Directives:

P.1:   Although they were established as far back as in the nineteenth century, as a way to cherish traditional culture and local customs, the chitalishta have adapted their actual operations for the purpose of applying safeguarding methods pertinent to intangible cultural heritage. Community members share common values between generations while implementing social and educational activities that include the organization of cultural celebrations, festivals and exhibitions, the establishment of local centres for documentation and archiving, and raising awareness about specific elements of intangible cultural heritage.

P.2:   While chitalishta centres operate as NGO structures, essentially at the local and national levels, they are also capable of operating at the regional and international levels. Cooperation with partner institutions from neighboring countries is indicated in the form, as well as with the category 2 centre under the auspices of UNESCO based in Sofia (Regional Centre for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in South-Eastern Europe), with its regional reach.

P.3:   Chitalishta are inclusive and self-regulatory structures. They are established by communities and work primarily at the local level. Their objectives and activities relate to the safeguarding of local traditions and addressing cultural needs through awareness-raising and educational activities, the dissemination of related cultural values, encouraging respect for the cultural diversity of various local traditions and engaging increasingly in international cooperation. Activities for children also contribute to transmission processes.

P.4:   The centres are widely supported across the country by the public authorities, institutions and various audiences. Over the years, chitalishta have contributed to the safeguarding and transmission of intangible cultural heritage through various educational programmes and the documentation and promotion of local traditions. The specific responsibilities of chitalishta include offering support to bearers of traditions and updating the national ‘Living Human Treasures’ system.

P.5:   Wide public consultations preceded the proposal, and attestations of consent from twenty-nine chitalishta and supporting organizations are provided. Community involvement is integral to the planning and operations of these local community centres, with community members participating voluntarily as organizers, participants (as the transmitters of intangible cultural heritage and learners of living traditions) and audiences, often from an early age. However, more specific descriptions of how community members are involved in the activities are missing in the file.

P.6:   The chitalishta model could be applied in different local circumstances. The system and organizational structure is inherently adaptable, as its many centres have proven through programmes and activities that are shaped by the aspirations and involvement of the various local communities that run them. As such, the centres can readily respond to community-based needs, while still being guided by common national regulations, and the broad support of the authorities is ensured. Chitalishta are a natural place for informal education and grassroot projects and are characterized by tolerance towards different cultural traditions, thus ensuring respect for cultural diversity at the regional, subregional and international levels.

P.7:   The file demonstrates the commitment of the various stakeholders involved with the chitalishta to contributing to the dissemination of its practices and the learning accumulated. The partnerships and collaboration with various institutions attest to this; these include the Regional Centre for Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage in South-Eastern Europe, Sofia, the Ethnographic Museum, the Institute for Ethnology and Folklore Studies and the National Center for Intangible Cultural Heritage. A specialized website has been established to promote the programme.

P.8:   The Control Commission – a self-regulatory body internal to each chitalishte – carries out an assessment of the activities. As required by national law under the Chitalishte Act, the General Assembly of each centre submits an adopted programme to the municipal authorities. There are continuous cycles of self- and external control, and each Chitalishte is required to fill in a questionnaire from the Ministry of Culture for that purpose.

P.9:   Chitalishta not only serve as centres of intangible cultural heritage, but also address a much broader spectrum of local issues and problems. They successfully contribute to the coordination of local and national policies and resources with regard to cultural heritage, and also work in continuous collaboration with schools, which significantly expands upon the possibilities for combining formal and informal educational methods.

  1. Selects Bulgarian Chitalishte (Community Cultural Centre): practical experience in safeguarding the vitality of the Intangible Cultural Heritage as a programme, project or activity best reflecting the principles and objectives of the Convention;
  2. Encourages the State Party to share, via regional and international platforms, the experiences relating to the chitalishte programmes and activities, notably in relation to community participation, providing examples of specific safeguarding methodolgies and measures.