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(Yonhap Interview) UNESCO official highlights growth potential of 'Jikji'

All Headlines 11:44 September 01, 2016

CHEONGJU, South Korea, Sept. 1 (Yonhap) -- Frank La Rue, UNESCO's assistant director-general for communication and information, suggested Thursday that South Korea's "Jikji," the world's oldest book printed with movable metal type, can serve as an international platform for heritage preservation.

Visiting South Korea for the awarding of the UNESCO Jikji Memory of the World Prize, La Rue, in a written interview with Yonhap News Agency, said the Jikji project could grow and initiate a "Documentary Heritage Congress" that can meet every three or four years.

The following are excerpts from the interview.

Q: What is the core value of the Jikji recognized by UNESCO?

A: Jikji was the first book in the world to be printed using movable metal type technology (78 years earlier than Gutenberg's Bible). This technology has been recognized to be a prime factor in bringing a revolutionary change to how books were printed. Because of this, it has been given the recognition of a world heritage because of the huge impact it has had on how books are printed and information was disseminated not only in Korea, but in other places around the world. Jikji is also unique because of the movable metal type printing, which is considered the most important invention in human history. With this invention knowledge which was only available for the upper class was spread to everyone through the printing technology. Printing technology not only allowed common people to be able to receive education, it is also an invention that caused revolutionary and historical changes in society.

Q: It has been 10 years since the Jikji Memory of the World Prize was established. What is your evaluation of the prize? Has it served its original purpose?

A: The objective of the Prize is very much in line with one of UNESCO's primary objectives: to provide universal access to information and knowledge. ... The Prize was established in 2004, and it marked the beginning of a very successful partnership between UNESCO and the Korean authorities. The Prize has achieved its objective by recognizing the work of individuals and organizations that specialize in documentary heritage preservation; offering moral and financial support and recognition of their work that ensures long-term preservation and access to documentary heritage. Over the years, it has gained great popularity and has become a well-known Prize that raises awareness of the importance to preserve our cultural and documentary heritage and also to inspire others to join the field.

Q: What are your thoughts on the future of the UNESCO Jikji Prize?

A: First of all, I would like to reiterate the vision of the Memory of the World Programme, which is a simple but powerful one: "That the world's documentary heritage belongs to all, should be fully preserved and protected for all and should be permanently accessible to all without hindrance."

We should not forget that to promote high standards and high-quality skills in documentary heritage preservation practice but in its next stage it should aim to stimulate trans-frontier exchange in heritage protection and preservation. By spreading the "Power of Example," the Prize could also aim to encourage further efforts and projects related to heritage throughout all the regions. For instance, the Jikji Prize project can be enlarged to support with appropriate partners, national and international campaigns for the preservation and rescue of documentary heritage which is in danger.

Further, Jikji can be developed as an international platform (within the Memory of the World Programme) for exchange for those concerned with documentary heritage preservation, education, research, communication and interpretation. ... The Jikji project can potentially grow and initiate the organization every three or four years of a Documentary Heritage Congress.

Q: Cheongju is trying to promote the value of Jikji to the world, and the Jikji Korea International Festival is part of such efforts. How does UNESCO evaluate such efforts?

A: UNESCO greatly appreciates the efforts and the valuable contribution of the Korean Government as this event is fully in line with UNESCO's policy and the objectives of the Memory of the World Programme. I wish to emphasize that the UNESCO Jikji Prize has been instrumental in raising awareness about the importance of preservation of significant and unique documentary collections and holdings worldwide, as well as improving access to this heritage. The Jikji International Festival contributes to promote better understanding and appreciation of national heritage and thus promotes cultural diversity and international dialogue. Jikji carries the meaning of equality, the sharing of knowledge, benevolence, peace and emancipation.

Q: Close to Cheonju is the Presidential Archives, whose agenda is to share expertise and skills through international cooperation. What would you recommend for such a program?

A: For every country, the Presidential Archives are of particular importance since they help to shed light on the significant policy decisions made by the presidents. As such they are the foundations of Korean history and will inform future generations.

We know by now that preserving the memory of the world in the digital age requires more than good solutions to the technical challenges of the digital documentary life cycle. What is needed is building a consensus around solutions that protect the input to digitization and preservation systems. And here international cooperation is crucial.

La Rue, a Guatemalan labor and human rights law specialist, was a candidate for the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize and served as the U.N. special rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression. He had visited South Korea in 2010 in that capacity to review how the right was protected in the country.

The city of Cheongju is hosting the Jikji Korea Festival from Sept. 1-8 under the theme "Jikji, Enlightening the World." The UNESCO prize will be awarded on Thursday.
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