Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi Stresses Role of Cultural Heritage for National Unity


On the margins of the 71st session of the UN General Assembly, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova pledged support to Myanmar's democratic reform process and the restoration of Bagan in the aftermath of last month's earthquake, in a meeting with H.E. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, State Counsellor and Minister of Foreign Affairs, on 20 September 2016.

The Director-General expressed appreciation for State Counsellor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi's call for restoration work in Bagan, an outstanding complex of 11th century Buddhist ‎temples, to be carried out under UNESCO's technical guidance. State Counsellor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi stressed the importance of research, including on white-washing, to conduct renovations with professionalism in order not to repeat past practices such as the use of concrete. 

Noting that UNESCO deployed a team to Bagan 48 hours after the August 24 earthquake, ‎the Director-General indicated that a comprehensive plan for restoration has now been prepared. “We are extremely committed to support the process of inscription of Bagan as a World Heritage Site and will send a strong message that we are not going to rush with safeguarding and restoration but look with the greatest care for authenticity and use of traditional materials,” she said.

In discussing the challenges of managing the transformation, State Counsellor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi shared her interest in bringing museums up to standards so they can be places where young people can meet and learn about their common past. “We would like to use cultural heritage as a binding force rather than a divisive force.” The Director-General praised this approach, referred to UNESCO's work to put heritage in young hands, and indicated readiness to contribute.

She also affirmed UNESCO's support to education reform, including through strengthening teacher education. State Counsellor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi reiterated that education is a priority for the Government, indicating the establishment of a National Advisory Education Council to coordinate policy. 

Finally the Director-General commended the State Counsellor and Foreign Minister for her participation in World Press Freedom Day and the country's work with UNESCO on media legislation and capacity building for journalists. The Minister emphasized the importance of professional standards and countering hate speech, in particular through social media. “With freedom comes responsibility, we have to keep emphasizing this,” she said.