Protecting Cultural Heritage in Time of War.
Featured Image: World Heritage flag, Stortorget, Karlskrona. By Henrik Sendelbach, CC BY-SA 2.5 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5, via Wikimedia Commons.
War and armed violence are highly destructive of the lives of persons, but also of works of art and elements of cultural heritage. The war in Ukraine has highlighted the destructive power of war in a dramatic way. Thus, this May 18, “International Museum Day”, we outline some of the ways in which UNESCO is working to protect the cultural heritage in Ukraine in time of war.
International Museum Day.
May 18 has been designated by UNESCO as the International Day of Museums to highlight the role that museums play in preserving beauty, culture, and history. Museums come in all sizes and are often related to institutions of learning and libraries. Increasingly, churches and centers of worship have taken on the character of museums as people visit them for their artistic value, even they do not share the faith of those who built them.
Knowledge and understanding of a people’s past can help current inhabitants to develop and sustain identity and to appreciate the value of their own culture and heritage. This knowledge and understanding enriches their lives. It enables them to manage contemporary problems more successfully.
Graphic identity for International Museum Day 2020. By Justine Navarro, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.
The Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.
It is widely believed in Ukraine that one of the chief aims of the Russian armed intervention is to eliminate all traces of a separate Ukrainian culture, to highlight a common Russian motherland. In order to do this, there is a deliberate destruction of cultural heritage and a looting of museums, churches, and libraries in areas when under Russian military control. Museums, libraries, and churches elsewhere in Ukraine have been targeted by Russian artillery attacks.
After the Second World War, UNESCO had developed international conventions on the protection of cultural and educational bodies in times of conflict. The most important of these is the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. The Hague Convention has been signed by a large number of States including the USSR to which both the Russian Federation and Ukraine are bound.
UNESCO has designed a Blue Shield as a symbol of a protected site. Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, has brought a number of these Blue Shields herself to Ukraine to highlight UNESCO’s vital efforts.
Audrey Azoulay, Director General, UNESCO at the Global Conference for Media Freedom in London (2019).Foreign and Commonwealth Office, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
The Roerich Peace Pact.
The 1954 Hague Convention builds on the efforts of the Roerich Peace Pact signed on April 15, 1935 by 21 States in a Pan-American Union ceremony at the White House in Washington, D.C. In addition to the Latin American States of the Pan American Union, the following States also signed: Kingdom of Albania, Kingdom of Belgium, Republic of China, Republic of Czechoslovakia, Republic of Greece, Irish Free State, Empire of Japan, Republic of Lithuania, Kingdom of Persia, Republic of Poland, Republic of Portugal, Republic of Spain, Confederation of Switzerland, Kingdom of Yugoslavia.
At the signing, Henry A. Wallace, then U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and later Vice-President, said:
“At no time has such an ideal been more needed. It is high time for the idealists who make the reality of tomorrow, to rally around such a symbol of international cultural unity. It is time that we appeal to that appreciation of beauty, science, education which runs across all national boundaries to strengthen all that we hold dear in our particular governments and customs. Its acceptance signifies the approach of a time when those who truly love their own nation will appreciate in addition the unique contributions of other nations and also do reverence to that common spiritual enterprise which draws together in one fellowship all artists, scientists, educators and truly religious of whatever faith. Thus we build a world civilization which places that which is fine in humanity above that which is low, sordid and mean, that which is hateful and grabbing.”
We still have efforts to make so that what is fine in humanity is above what is hateful and grabbing. However, the road signs set out the direction clearly.
Globally-used UNESCO World Heritage logo. By UNESCO; Designer: Michel Olyff.Uploaded by Siyuwj, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.