Introduction: Intangible cultural heritage in Switzerland

On acceding to the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, Switzerland undertook to draw up an inventory of its intangible cultural heritage and to keep it up-to-date.

An initial version of the inventory was published in 2012 under the title ‘List of Living Traditions in Switzerland’. This list was first updated in 2017. In the course of the update, the list was expanded from 165 to 199 entries. Most of the 34 new entries relate to living traditions in Switzerland’s cities.

As with the first edition of the inventory, in making the update, the Federal Office of Culture (FOC) worked closely with the cantons. The FOC was responsible for coordinating the inventory process. The cantons identified their living traditions and made proposals for the national list. A steering group discussed these proposals and made a selection. The steering group was made up of representatives of the Confederation, the cantons, the cities, the Swiss UNESCO Commission and the Swiss cultural foundation Pro Helvetia as well as leading academics. In summer 2018, the updated list will be published as a web inventory, accompanied by comprehensive documentation.

On the recommendation of a panel of experts, in October 2014 the Federal Council selected eight living traditions as candidates for the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The eight candidate traditions will be proposed separately to UNESCO. The candidacies have been drawn up in cooperation with the groups responsible for preserving the traditions. Alongside the national candidate traditions, a number of multinational traditions have also been proposed.

In addition to coordinating the inventory work and drawing up the UNESCO candidacies, the FOC is conducting various projects with civil society organisations in order to raise general awareness of intangible cultural heritage. These projects deal with themes such as ‘exhibiting living traditions’ and ‘living traditions in urban society’.

As the FOC regards Switzerland’s museums as important facilitators in relation to intangible cultural heritage, it is also encouraging the debate about how best to exhibit intangible cultural heritage.

David Vitali is currently Head of the Section "Culture and Society" of the Swiss Federal Office of Culture since 2012. He was assigned the ratification and implementation of the UNESCO Convention for the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage. David Vitali studied History and Philology at the Universities of Zurich and Oxford. He worked as a researcher at the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities in Munich and at the University of Zurich. He obtained a Ph.D. in Philology in 2004. In 2005 he joined the Swiss Federal Office of Culture.