The Spirit in the Stone: The Indelible Face of Cultural Heritage

– As delivered –

Statement by H.E. Mr. Miroslav Lajčák, President of the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly, at Opening Reception of Exhibition “The Spirit in the Stone: The Indelible Face of Cultural Heritage”



Excellencies, colleagues and friends. I am very pleased to be here.

Anyone who has walked around this building has seen how many beautiful artefacts and paintings it holds. But, even with very stiff competition, tonight’s exhibition steals the limelight.

That is not only because of what it looks like – but also what it represents. Both the statue that is here tonight, and the arch that we are seeing through projection, deliver a very powerful message.

First, they speak of brutality. They still bear the marks of the destruction they suffered, at the hands of terrorists. And this isn’t a very nice message. But it is one which we cannot afford to hide from. It is one which many Syrians are seeing, and experiencing, on a daily basis.

However, they also speak of humanity. These pieces are a testament to human strength and resilience. As a matter of fact, sometimes I find it hard to even understand how people could have made works like these. With no electric tools. No air conditioning to keep them cool. No technology. But, with a very clear vision.

The message of human strength and resilience also lies in what happened after these pieces were made. Yes, they were destroyed by humans. But it was humans who carefully rebuilt them. And this is the answer of humanity that we, in this building, and our colleagues in the field, work to highlight and empower.

Finally, these works represent a strong message of unity. An attack on cultural heritage might affect one statue, in one city, in one country. But, really, it is an attack on us all. Because every one of us owns, and is responsible for, every piece of cultural heritage around the world. That is why, throughout history, we have united in defence of them.

Italy has played a leading role in helping us to do so. It has championed the defence and protection of cultural heritage – not just on Italian soil, but throughout the world. It has used its role as a member of the United Nation’s General Assembly, and as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, to strengthen this organisation’s policies in respect of cultural heritage.

And now, alongside the Institute for Digital Archaeology, it has brought some of this cultural heritage to our doorstep.

In fact, I think the use of the new technology to highlight ancient art captures a major element of Italian culture. I myself, during my trips to Rome, have been struck by how a bustling, modern metropolis can co-exist, so harmoniously, with the relics of the ancient city that came before it.

Mr Under-Secretary of State Amendola, Mr Ambassador Cardi, thank you for inviting me to the opening of this beautiful exhibition.

Thank you.