On 22 November 2021, in a ceremony at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, and Lina Mendoni, Minister of Culture and Sports of the Hellenic Republic, awarded the UNESCO-Greece Melina Mercouri International Prize for the Safeguarding and Management of Cultural Landscapes to Mojca Kunst, Director of the Kozjansko Park Public Institute, for the management of the site Podsreda in Slovenia.
"This prize is also important to us because it highlights a particularly moving part of our heritage: the combined works of nature and humanity that are cultural landscapes. [...] It is therefore to highlight them, to reveal their beauty, that this Prize exists", underlined the Director-General.
Ms Mendoni stressed the importance of safeguarding cultural landscapes that are “delicate and fragile”. “Cultural and natural landscapes can only be safeguarded through the preparation and enforcement of integrated sustainable management plans, based on the holistic and unified consideration and treatment of the natural and cultural environment, which is the only viable option for sustainable development”, she said.
Renewed in 2017 at the initiative of Greece and awarded every two years, the Melina Mercouri Prize is named after Melina Mercouri, former Greek Minister of Culture and a strong advocate of integrated conservation. The Prize rewards outstanding efforts in the protection and management of cultural landscapes, i.e. sites that embody an intimate and sustainable relationship between man and his environment. The Kozjansko Park Institute was chosen from 47 nominations following a thorough evaluation by the jury members.
Kozjansko Park Public Institute manages the area of Podsreda, Slovenia, which celebrates this year its 40th anniversary. Podsreda includes a total of 314 protected cultural heritage sites and monuments. The varied landscape is characterized by wooded orchards and pre-Alpine hills, which merge into a fertile plain along the river Sotla. Among the remarkable elements of this cultural landscape are the meadow orchards and fruit gardens and the area’s exceptional biodiversity, which are safeguarded by the quality of the local agricultural network. Local communities are also custodians of this unique cultural landscape and their cultural events and festivals also promote sustainable development.
In her acceptance speech, Ms Kunst stressed the important role of local communities in the preservation of cultural landscapes. “A large proportion of the employees live within the park and that is why in addition to professional responsibility, we are also emotionally attached to the mission entrusted to us by the state”, she said. “It makes us happy when we observe the commitment of older and younger owners, when they plant new young apple and pear trees and thus again actively intervene in the formation of the cultural landscape of the countryside in our protected area”, she added.
Ms Maria Diamantopoulou, Ambassador of Greece to UNESCO, also participated in the ceremony, which took place within the framework of the 41st session of the UNESCO General Conference. This eighth edition of the UNESCO-Greece Melina Mercouri International Prize for the Safeguarding and Management of Cultural Landscapes is in line with UNESCO’s efforts to support the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development through culture.