The UK ranks number one in the world in terms of ‘soft power’ (the ability to affect others to obtain preferred outcomes by the co-optive means of framing the agenda, persuasion and positive attraction) and this is, in part, due to the investment that we put into aiding other countries.
One such example is the Cultural Protection Fund which – through the efforts of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport as well as the British Council - invests £30 million into supporting efforts to keep cultural heritage sites and objects safe from destruction in ‘at risk’ countries.
In countries, such as Syria, we have seen destructive forces such as the so-called Islamic State deliberately destroy ancient, historic artefacts and thus seek to completely erase these from history. For example, the world heritage site Palmyra which used to welcome over 150,000 tourists every year was blown up in order to ‘culturally cleanse’ the country. I am pleased, therefore, that in my capacity as Heritage Minister I can support the rebuilding or conservation of sites like these.
In order to show the great work that has been done through the Fund, I opened the Cultural Protection Fund Exhibition in the House of Commons on Tuesday, 12th February. With MPs, Peers and industry experts in attendance I congratulated those who have worked hard to help protect the culture of the twelve ‘at risk’ countries identified. The Exhibition displayed some of the work that has already been done and also the future plans for the £30 million Fund. From conserving the heritage of the Yazidis in Northern Iraq to digitising the archives and records of Sudan, the work of the Fund has gone a long way in preserving this heritage in the long-term. As well as physical work in preserving historic buildings, the Fund also helps to train nationals of the countries the UK is working with in order to give them the skills to do this vital work for themselves in the future.
Artefacts and culture play a huge part in any country’s national identity and ensuring that these are protected during or after times of turmoil and conflict is vital in rebuilding a country. This is why I am proud that these resources will go to such projects in countries such as Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and Syria.