Valuable Czech documents added to UNESCO Memory of the World list

What do the following have in common? An Australian film from 1906 called "The Story of the Kelly Gang". The South African court papers from case No. 253/1963 against "Nelson Mandela and others". And the Bayeux Tapestry. Can't guess? Well, they all feature on a UNESCO list of important historical documents, and for the first time, two entries from the Czech Republic have been added to that list.

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it", goes the famous - and frequently misremembered - saying by philosopher George Santayana. To vaccinate the human race against cases of collective amnesia, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) launched a programme in 1997 to preserve and disseminate valuable items held in the world's archives and libraries.

Today dozens of archive collections, thousands of metres of film and millions of pages of manuscripts, books and newspapers are protected by the UNESCO programme, called Memory of the World. Thirty-eight new entries have just been added to the list, bringing the total to 158. For the first time, they include two from the Czech Republic. Vlastimil Jezek is the director of the Czech National Library:

Vlastimil Jezek
"You have to choose documents which are truly important, not only for the country where they came from, but also for Europe and even the whole world."

The two Czech entries are a collection of medieval manuscripts dating from the Czech Reformation, which led to the foundation of the Protestant church in the Czech Lands, and a collection of Russian, Ukrainian and Belarussian émigré periodicals published between 1918 and 1945. It is described as a unique collection of newspapers and journals published between the two world wars by the first wave of Russian émigrés, who fled Bolshevik Russia and settled throughout the world, including Czechoslovakia.

UNESCO says such valuable documents reflect the world's diversity of languages, peoples and cultures. "It is the mirror of the world and its memory," says the organisation, adding that the world's memory is a fragile and irreplaceable thing. Hence the significance of the Memory of the World Programme.

And those of you with good memories who are wondering what's so special about a black and white film about Ned Kelly - it was the first feature-length film in the world.