Interview with Sneška Quaedvlieg–Mihailović – Secretary General of Europa Nostra

Interview with Sneška Quaedvlieg–Mihailović – Secretary General of Europa Nostra

Portrait of Sneška Quaedvlieg–Mihailović in front of green bushes.
CHARTER had the pleasure to chat with Sneška Quaedvlieg–Mihailović about her predictions of the new year for cultural heritage. Her passion for culture started in former Yugoslavia and during the war that not only shed lives, but also ruined important monuments. Ever since, she has been a strong advocate of the importance and the unifying power of cultural heritage.

We discussed the European Green Deal, COP26 and culture's overall contribution to sustainability as well as Europa Nostra's involvement in New European Bauhaus initiative. We also asked Sneška to introduce us to the recent New European Renaissance call-to-action. Finally she gets to ponder on future cultural heritage skills and jobs.

When did you realise culture was important to you?

As you might guess from my family name, I was born and raised in Belgrade, the capital city of Serbia, which at the time was the capital city of former Yugoslavia, a federal country which no longer exists. The traumatic experience of witnessing the tragic wars involving the countries of former Yugoslavia in the 90s, with so many lives lost and also with deliberate destruction of monuments and sites as tangible witnesses of the cultural identity of various ethnic and religious communities, made me become a forceful advocate of building bridges and tearing down walls through culture. Instead of being misused to divide communities, our shared cultural heritage ought to enhance the understanding of the cultural, religious and ethnic diversity of our communities while at the same time fostering our sense of belonging to a larger family. As such, it ought to become a vital tool for conflict resolution and peace-building processes in Europe and elsewhere in the world.European cultural heritage

The start of the wars leading to the breakup of Yugoslavia, coincided with the start of my life with Europa Nostra. 30 years later, my passion for Europe’s shared cultural heritage and shared values continue to guide my strong dedication to Europa Nostra’s important mission and action.

What’s your earliest memory of engaging with culture?

Culture has always formed a vital part of my education and experience. In addition to regular school education, I have attended 10 years of musical education with piano playing at its centre. My aunt was a renowned theatre actress and director who brought the world of theatre, literature and poetry to my everyday life.  My first trip abroad with my parents, at the age of 9, was to France via Venice – I will never forget the excitement of feeding the pigeons on the St Mark’s Square and of taking a boat tour through the Venice canals. Last but not least, I had the chance to study the French language at a very early age – I was 3 years old when I attended the kindergarten organised by the French-Serbian Friendship Society. In the framework of the twinning scheme between my primary school and a school based in La Réole, near Bordeaux in France, I was only 10 years old when after a 40 hours (!) long train trip I had the chance to visit my French pen-pal Sylvie Garrigiou in her hometown. This is where I fell in love with the cultural heritage, tangible and intangible, of France. The rest is history….

Which 2021 achievements can you highlight in relation to the European Green Deal and its progress?

The year 2021 has clearly marked a momentum for cultural heritage as a resource for the European Green Deal and the green transformation of our societies. Since 2019, Europa Nostra has placed the topic of cultural heritage and climate high on its agenda and initiated close cooperation with ICOMOS, the Climate Heritage Network and the European Investment Bank Institute to produce the European Cultural Heritage Green Paper. Presented in March 2021, this Paper correlates the contribution of cultural heritage to all key areas of the European Green Deal, including Clean Energy, Circular Economy, the Renovation Wave, Smart Mobility, Farm to Fork, Green Finance and a Just Transition, Research and Innovation, Education and Training, as well as Green Deal Diplomacy. It proposes a series of concrete recommendations both for policy-makers and for cultural heritage stakeholders to duly put our shared cultural heritage at the heart of the European Green Deal.

This was one of Europa Nostra’s major policy contributions to the New European Bauhaus initiative, of which we are a proud official partner. Launched by the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen in September 2020, the New European Bauhaus aims at bringing the European Green Deal closer to citizens and their living spaces by bridging the world of science and technology with the world of art and culture. This creative and interdisciplinary community gathers designers, architects, engineers, scientists, students and creative minds across disciplines to imagine our collective future around the core values of sustainability, aesthetics and inclusiveness. As an official partner, we have aligned all our activities to the New European Bauhaus values and continue to advocate the need for a heritage-led transformation of our society, economy and environment to address the pressing challenges that Europe is facing.

Against this backdrop, Europa Nostra hosted a very special European Cultural Heritage Summit 2021 from 21 to 24 September in Venice – the first and largest physical European event of its kind since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. It received the support of the European Union and was held under the patronage of the European Parliament, the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU and the Italian Ministry of Culture. The Summit was a contribution to the New European Bauhaus, the Conference on the Future of Europe and the European Climate Pact. The Summit concluded with the release of the Venice Call to Action “For a New European Renaissance” which notably aims at unleashing the potential of culture-based climate action in the work leading up to and follow-up of the COP26 as well as in the implementation of the SDGs.

How do you think the COP26 major outcomes will impact 2022 policies, projects and the heritage sector in general?

We can be proud to acknowledge that thanks to our collective effort, the contribution of cultural heritage to climate action has gained visibility and momentum. During this COP26 there have been at least 15 heritage-related events, some of them at Ministerial level. But alas, this is not enough. The Report “Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis” by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which was issued during the COP 26 shows that global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C will be exceeded during the 21st century unless drastic reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions occur. Given the gravity and urgency of the situation, we need to do more and be faster. Every individual, every professional and every political leader must do their part to counter the climate emergency. And the cultural heritage world stands ready to take on this challenge and has clearly demonstrated its commitment to do so.

Europa Nostra believes that Europe, as one of the world’s largest legacy greenhouse gas emitters and with a comparatively well-funded culture sector, has both the obligation and a great opportunity for stimulating culture-led climate action in Europe and beyond. We are fully committed to champion this mobilisation, in particular in our new role as the Regional Co-Chair of the Climate Heritage Network (CHN) for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States. In the upcoming years, we shall continue mobilising our wide network – including through the European Heritage Alliance and the Climate Heritage Network – and our expertise and advocacy skills to further strengthen the “Heritage4Climate movement” in Europe and globally.

What’s next for the New European Bauhaus in 2022?

The New European Bauhaus unfolds in several phases. It started with the co-design phase from October 2020 to June 2021, to which everybody could contribute by submitting ideas and good examples or organising events. This phase also marked the launch of the New European Bauhaus Prizes in 10 categories to celebrate existing achievements and support the younger generation to further develop emerging concepts and ideas. As an official partner, we were delighted to be part of the Jury and assess so many inspiring projects from across Europe.

Building upon these first months of collecting input, the delivery phase started in September 2021 with the adoption of a Commission Communication defining the core principles and key actions that will drive the New European Bauhaus forward. This framework foresees the annual organisation of the New European Bauhaus Prizes and a New European Bauhaus Festival, the first edition of which shall take place in June 2022 in Brussels. In parallel, a New European Bauhaus Lab (NEB Lab) gathering the entire community is being created, whose function will be to test tools and solutions and develop concrete policy recommendations. Europa Nostra looks forward to contributing to the work of the NEB Lab and exchanging with peers from all over Europe.

The combination of several EU financing instruments will also result in the launch of calls for proposals, especially under the Horizon Europe Programme, the LIFE programme, the ERDF, the Single Market Programme, Erasmus+ and Creative Europe. We encourage all relevant stakeholders to keep an eye out for these unprecedented opportunities to shape together a more sustainable, more inclusive and more beautiful future in Europe and beyond.

Sneška Quaedvlieg–Mihailović discussing European cultural heritage in an online meeting.

Photo: Felix Q Media

Can you introduce us to the New European Renaissance and let us know how CH sector actors can contribute to this call-to-action?

The Venice Call to Action “For a New European Renaissance” was presented on the occasion of the European Heritage Policy Agora “From the New European Bauhaus to the New European Renaissance” held on 24 September 2021 at the Giorgio Cini Foundation, as the concluding event of the European Cultural Heritage Summit 2021 in Venice.

The Venice Call to Action makes a strong plea to European leaders at all levels of governance – European, national, regional and local – as well as to all heritage actors – public, private and civil society – to duly integrate the transformative power of culture and cultural heritage among the strategic priorities for the reshaping of our societies. It outlines a series of pressing challenges facing our continent – from the post-pandemic recovery to climate change – and stresses the vital positive contribution of culture and cultural heritage to successfully address them.

The Venice Call to Action puts forward 12 concrete and actionable proposals to place our shared cultural heritage where it belongs – at the very heart of the entire European project. These proposals include for example the empowerment of the younger generation to actively participate in the shaping of a more sustainable future in particular during the 2022 Year of European Youth, the organisation of a special inter-committee hearing in the European Parliament on the future of historic cities, sites and related landscapes affected by the effects of climate change and mass tourism or the support to the development of philanthropy with a European purpose as well as public-private partnerships and investments in the wider heritage sector.

This document is the direct contribution by Europa Nostra and its network to unleash the potential of cultural heritage for the European Green Deal, the New European Bauhaus, the 2022 Year of European Youth, among other key priorities of the European Union, and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. We now welcome the contribution and support of stakeholders from the wider heritage sphere to concretely implement these proposals in 2022 and beyond!

In relation to all the initiatives mentioned and the role Cultural Heritage plays in them, which future skills do you think will be necessary for their development and success?

Over the past few months, the cultural heritage ecosystem has swiftly transformed and adapted to new challenges and trends, proving at the same time its resilience to unprecedented challenges. The pandemic has accelerated the digital shift, creating more inclusive cultural experiences. Major cultural institutions have turned challenges into digital opportunities to continue their activities as well as to keep their audiences entertained and engaged while reaching new ones across Europe and beyond. Digital practices, such as 3D modelling, also have the potential to drive creativity for the emergence of a more sustainable and a more innovative heritage sector.

However, as pointed out in our report “COVID-19 & BEYOND: Challenges and Opportunities for Cultural Heritage” – resulting from a consultation among our large membership – the COVID-19 crisis also highlighted and further widened inequalities with smaller cultural organisations that are missing out on digital opportunities. These digital inequalities and gaps can lead to a worrying lack of diversity in cultural and heritage content and offer. This is why it is essential to boost the digital capacity and skills of cultural actors at all levels, hence ensuring a better safeguard of our shared heritage and its wider access based on a more democratic and inclusive approach.

To ensure the lasting legacy of promising initiatives such as the New European Bauhaus and the work of the Climate Heritage Network, it is also vital to train the new generation of heritage professionals to incorporate the respect of green and quality principles into their everyday work directly or indirectly related to cultural heritage.

What kind of future jobs in the field of cultural heritage do you foresee? Have you already noticed some trends?

As already mentioned, jobs related to digital heritage and digitalisation shall become increasingly important in the near future. Professions ensuring the sustainable conservation and renovation of heritage, and more generally jobs linking cultural heritage and climate action, shall also experience a boom.

Looking towards the future, traditional crafts, knowledge and skills, which are often at risk of disappearing, should be preserved and transmitted to new generations. These crafts and skills form part of our intangible cultural heritage; they enhance sustainability and constitute a positive resource for our societies.

To deploy their full potential, these jobs and skills shall be based on proper education and training systems. We also need to reach out to the public at large through engaging communication and dissemination.

How do you think CHARTER will contribute to the cultural heritage sector?

Let me, first of all, thank the CHARTER consortium for involving Europa Nostra as an associate partner of this timely and important project funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union. The CHARTER Alliance brings together a large pool of some 47 partners from across Europe to guarantee that the cultural heritage ecosystem has the necessary skills and knowledge to adapt and support the development of sustainable societies and economies, including digital and green competencies.

Numerous and very diverse skills in the heritage sector are still lacking a common recognition and classification, which undermines the sector’s continuity and long-term viability. I believe that by identifying skills shortages and mismatches in the cultural heritage sector, the CHARTER project will be successful in contributing to bridging the gap between education and occupational systems and illustrates the huge contribution of cultural heritage with related skills to social, economic and environmental sustainability in Europe.

The recently released CHARTER report “A new landscape for heritage professions – preliminary findings”, which analysed how the cultural heritage sector has been described over the past decades in the form of a new matrix model, is another promising step towards the creation of sectoral skills strategy.

Which are the most significant CH developments of 2021 and what do you expect for 2022?

As already mentioned, one of the most significant developments for cultural heritage in 2021 was the wide recognition of its positive contribution to sustainability, climate action and the green transformation of our societies in general. This resulted in an enabling framework to make further advances on culture-based climate action in 2022 and beyond.

Another timely and opportune development is the acknowledgement of the relation between culture, heritage and the well-being (both mental and physical) of citizens and their communities. With the New European Bauhaus, EU Institutions have also for the first time highlighted the value of “Beauty” for the quality of our living environment! Our historic buildings and their surrounding landscape with their ‘sense of the place’ shape and nurture our feeling of ‘home’. They provide a vital bridge between our sense of belonging and the need to embrace new ways of life, and as such offer a vital framework for social cohesion and inclusion. For this reason, the preservation of the historic character of our cities, villages and rural areas must be at the heart of all strategic priorities of our decision-makers, at all levels of governance.

2022 will offer many opportunities to bring these achievements to a higher level on the political agenda. The prospect of the European Year of Youth 2022 is also promising as young heritage students, professionals, as well as enthusiasts and volunteers, have a key role to play in the shaping of this year. Young people are the present and the future of our heritage and, as such they are the guardian angels of our common future! This is why the work of the CHARTER project shall be even more relevant during the European Year of Youth, and why Europa Nostra stands ready to contribute to this project and to widely disseminate its outcomes.


Sneška Quaedvlieg–Mihailović with a bouquet of red roses.

Photo: Felix Q Media

Sneška Quaedvlieg–Mihailović (1963) has been working for Europa Nostra – the European Voice of Civil Society committed to Cultural Heritage – for more than 25 years. In 2000, she was appointed as Secretary General. In this capacity, she works closely with EU institutions, the Council of Europe, the UN, UNESCO and numerous international, European, national, regional and local governmental and non-governmental bodies on heritage matters. 

Since the creation of the European Heritage Alliance 3.3. in 2011, she has acted as the spokesperson of this informal platform of European and international networks active in the wider field of heritage. She has played a prominent role in promoting and implementing the European Year of Cultural Heritage (EYCH), actively contributing to the EYCH Stakeholders Group, and now ensuring the legacy of the Year as part of the European Commission Expert Group on Cultural Heritage.


She is a regular speaker at European conferences and meetings on cultural heritage and is author of numerous publications on Europe and cultural heritage. Most recently, she contributed to the European Cultural Heritage Green Paper “Putting Europe’s shared heritage at the heart of the European Green Deal”. She has also contributed to the preparation of the European Report “Cultural Heritage Counts for Europe” (2015) and to the “New Narrative for Europe” project and publications (2013).

She is a member of the Advisory Board of Europeana Foundation, the Advisory Council of the European Union Youth Orchestra and of the Steering Committee of the “Centre européen de la Musique”. 

Sneška Quaedvlieg–Mihailović obtained a degree in International Law in Belgrade (former Yugoslavia) and in European Law and Politics in Nancy (France).

Prior to joining Europa Nostra, she worked for EU Institutions in Brussels and then for the European Commission Delegation in Belgrade. In 1991, she was one of the founders and the first Secretary–General of the European Movement in Yugoslavia.

Connect on twitter @SneskaEN and @europanostra.

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