Mr Minister of Culture of the Russian Federation, Mr Governor of Saint-Petersburg, Distinguished Members of the World Heritage Committee, Madam Chairperson of the Executive Board of UNESCO, Madam Director-General of UNESCO, Our special guests: Mr Zurab Tsereteli, Good Will Ambassador of UNESCO, Ms Hedva Ser, UNESCO Artist for Peace, Mr Vladimir Tolstoy, Advisor of the President of the Russian Federation, Mr Assistant Director-General for Culture, Mr Director of the World Heritage Centre, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, It is my pleasant task to welcome you to the work of the 36th session of the World Heritage Committee! I also have pleasure in welcoming all representatives from the non-member State Parties, the Advisory Bodies, the UNESCO Secretariat, the non-governmental organizations and the mass-media. The presence of such a significant number of experts and observers on this tremendous occasion demonstrates explicitly the high international commitment and public concern for the safeguarding and promotion of our common heritage. This is the first ever session of the World Heritage Committee taking place in the Russian Federation, the country well-known for its diversity of cultural and natural heritage providing a stunning setting for this meeting. The marvellous historic city of Saint-Petersburg has generously offered to host this session. It would not be an overstatement to say, by quoting the famous Russian historian Karamzin, that in the streets and walls of this city was completed the “History of the Russian Nation”. One of its most remarkable architectural landmarks – the Tavricheskiy Palace, named as such by Catherine the Great – has opened its doors for the duration of our session. First used for royal festivities and receptions for high-level personalities and ambassadors, the Palace became later the place for major national and international exhibitions, and for sessions of the State Duma. Further it successively housed the Provisional Government of Russia, the Petrograd Council of Workers’ Deputies, and the Central Executive Committee of the All-Russian Party. Now the Tavrisheskiy Palace serves as Headquarters for the Interparliamentary Assembly of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Through the time and main events that changed the country and the world, the Palace has been the stage for number of eminent leaders and personalities addressing the history. It has kept their memory and legacy. Today in these premises I have a singular feeling and am very happy to declare the 36th session of the World Heritage Committee open! Ladies and Gentlemen, We will go through an important and dense working agenda for the two weeks before us. We will look into many critical and complex issues, above all the revision of the operational guidelines, the state of conservation of properties and the nominations to the World Heritage List. Remaining fully respectful of our key strategic objectives, the famous 5 Cs – Credibility, Conservation, Capacity-building, Communication and Communities, we will have to show our best for the maintaining the integrity, standards and technical aspects and management of Heritage and the Convention. United in our diversity we will enrich the essence of one of the most effective legal instruments of conservation of the planet, ratified by 189 countries and covering 936 sites around the world. Our decisions and actions will then have to further favour intercultural dialogue, promote appropriate educational approaches and advance a culture of peace in the service of the properties of outstanding universal value, which transcend time and borders. As Chairperson of the Committee, I have the honour to lead this task, together with the Vice-Chairs, and I am in no doubt that the Committee will efficiently take all necessary measures to further ensure the rational and successful implementation of the Convention and reflection on its future. Since its adoption in 1972, the Convention initiated a global response to the fundamental need to preserve the balance in the interaction between the conservation of nature and of cultural properties. The celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the World Heritage Convention going through this year 2012 puts the special emphasis on the close linkage between the World Heritage and Sustainable Development, and the Role of Local Communities in this interface. The diversity of cultures and ecosystems of the world represent the rich and vital heritage to pass on to our children. Likewise, the action of local stakeholders, including the considerable role played by the indigenous people, are the frontline force for the future sustainability and well being of our societies. Therefore, the community involvement, responsibility and empowerment are indispensable for successful management of heritage properties. It has a potential to contribute substantially to the effective heritage protection and education, and to the sustainable management of tourism at World Heritage destinations. The existing operational links between the World Heritage Convention and national heritage policies should obviously be enhanced, including through the consistent empowerment of the local communities. This action will improve the lives of communities and ensure their participation in the process of international cooperation on heritage conservation in the name of sustainable development. Unfortunately, for a number of countries this is a heavy task to deal with. All through, we must keep in mind the indisputable reality that the outstanding universal value of the World Heritage sites is based on local values, local experiences and most importantly on local conservation efforts. In one word, local and indigenous people are the key actors who make this global heritage possible! Dear friends, I would also like to remind us that we borrow our inheritance from the future generations. Part of our responsibility is to help prepare the decision-makers of tomorrow, to take over responsibilities for the long-term conservation of heritage sites in our planet. It is in consideration of this mission that I am happy to extend, on behalf of all of us, a particular welcome to the participants of the three parallel international youth events. The 4th Iberoamerican World Heritage Youth Forum, the Commonwealth of Independent States and Baltic States International Youth Forum “Water and World Heritage”, and the Youth Model of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee will all be reporting to us on their outcomes later during the session. In this connection, I would gladly recall that the first International World Heritage Youth Forum organized in Russia took place in 2002 in Novgorod whose historic monuments and surroundings are also inscribed on the World Heritage List. It was held in the context of the commemoration of the 30th Anniversary of the adoption of the Convention. In my opinion, one of the Novgorod Youth Forum recommendations to declare November 16 as the International Day of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage remains relevant at the present time. Distinguished colleagues, Life is progress! It is a permanent course for the revival, rebirth, new things and innovation. Despite the existing challenges which currently face many countries and the United Nations agencies, I am proud to note that the Russian Federation and UNESCO have managed to revitalize this meeting with the highest level of professionalism and dedication in pushing forward the noble mission of the World Heritage Convention. That was done not without some original findings as it was the case with this new and fresh initiative to establish the Youth Model of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, taking place in Kazan, capital of the Republic of Tatarstan. Also, the International Forum “NGOs in Support of the World Heritage Properties” was held for the first time on the margins of the Committee session. The final resolution of the Forum is now available for the Members of our Committee and for the observers. The Committee session will also be held for the first time in public, with the specific media-coverage and the life transmission of debates through on-line and screening facilities. In addition to our working agenda the present Committee session provides us with an extensive cultural program; the schedule of side events proposed to your attention is as intense as it is impressive. It is filled with enriching visits and excursions to some remarkable places of the city of “white nights” and its suburbs. It offers a memorable occasion to admire its beauty and greatness, and to meet the hospitality of its people. Dear friends, I sincerely hope that your stay and work on the banks of the Neva River will give to your minds the feeling of duty most productively done and will give to your hearts a collection of greatest emotions and impressions. I wish each of you a constructive, fruitful and inspiring session! Welcome again and thank you! Ladies and Gentlemen, Now, I am very pleased to welcome today among us Mr Vladimir Medinsky, Minister of Culture of the Russian Federation. Your Excellency, before to give you the floor, please, allow me to briefly present you to the Committee Members. First, I would like to congratulate you on your new appointment in May last. I am certain that your previous experiences will help you to pursue your present venture in a coherent and effective fashion. Graduated with honours from Moscow State Institute of International Relations – as did Madam Director-General and I during our time – you have gained titles of Professor and Doctor of Sciences in political and historical studies. Your writing talents have made you a recognized author and member of the Writers Union of Russia. During your illustrious career you have served in many official posts, be it the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or within the United Russia governing party. In the State Duma you have had the task of chairing Committees for Culture and for Natural Resources and Environmental Protection. Mr Minister, this logically leads me to express, on behalf of the Committee Members and on my own, our deepest gratitude to the Government of the Russian Federation, to the city of Saint-Petersburg and its Organizing Committee, to the Government of the Republic of Tatarstan, and to the Russian National Commission for UNESCO for their devoted efforts in making this wonderful and touching experience possible. We now very much look forward to listening to your words!