State-of-the-Art War

Sara Montesel
Current Events

To destroy or steal the patrimony that encloses the most radicated values of a community means depriving it of its roots and with it, taking away its dignity and strength.

The Russian march in Ukraine proceeds with increasingly dark and demoralizing colours, shades that bring echoes of the past with them. Despite the multiple cease-fires and the creation of humanitarian corridors for the evacuation of civilians, the images and the testimony of abuses perpetrated by the Russian Army on the Ukrainian people have appeared and circulated on the web, generating a unified reaction by the international community, united in demanding that Russia is to be trialled for war crimes. However, the Kremlin has denied any involvement in these crimes and has claimed that the images of slaughtered civilians in Russian-occupied territory are a counterfeit of Ukrainian Secret Services, used for western anti-Russia propaganda.

Meanwhile, in addition to the terrible pictures showing dead bodies of civilians executed on the streets or piled in mass graves, we have those showing the bombings on Ukrainian cultural heritage. To keep in mind the necessity of preserving the artistic heritage, while such violence rages at only 1600 km from Italy, might seem a bit indelicate towards the tragedy experienced by other human beings; nevertheless, while reserving maximum priority to humanitarian aid, we cannot forget that the identity of people has its roots in culture passed on throughout centuries from one generation to another. As we sadly learnt, on Ukrainian land, Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial has already been destroyed, as well as Ivankiv Local History Museum, and the University and State Academy of Culture, while many other World Heritage sites such as Saint Sophia Cathedral or the Potëmkin Stairs – only to cite a couple – remain in limbo, uncertain of possible destruction.  Never as it is in times of war, has culture been the object of attention; the protection we now grant to artistic goods is mostly because of the destruction brought on by World War II, and the developed understanding in times of peace that this legacy was to be preserved with shared actions. Furthermore, the very concept of cultural good was created in the post-Bellic period, being put on the table of the International Convention, in The Hague, in 1954 for the protection of cultural heritage in case of armed conflict. Among this Convention’s most important contributions we surely cite the overcoming of the traditional, statist, and Eurocentric vision of protecting cultural riches, and the introduction of the notion of humanity’s commonwealth, of which the depletion damages not only the country on which territory it is found but also the others involved in the conflict, as well as all people on Earth. To destroy or steal the patrimony that encloses the most radicated values of a community means depriving it of its roots and with it, taking away its dignity and strength. Indeed, the emotional impact triggered by ideological motivation in the impulse of destroying cultural riches must not be underestimated. As we have anticipated, such actions form the attempt of suppressing the identity of the enemy, hitting them in the heart of their historical memory. Today, as it was yesterday, the destruction of cultural testimonies, cities, and monuments, is nothing more than military tactics aiming to annihilate the enemy through the elimination of those elements that define them culturally and socially.

Bearing this in mind, initiatives supporting Ukrainian artists and professionals multiply around the conflict. Among these, to support initiatives aiming to strengthen the European sense of solidarity, the European Cultural Foundation has launched the Culture of Solidarity Found: Ukraine Edition. This foundation, created in 1954 in Geneva, is committed to making Europe a more inclusive and democratic place, putting culture at the heart of this unifying movement. The European Culture of Solidarity Fund constituted in 2020, has the sole purpose of sustaining cultural initiatives that, in the middle of a crisis, could reinforce European solidarity and the concept of Europe as a shared public space. The project will not only support independent media, by sharing information through the web and, consequently free from Russian censorship and propaganda, but it will also offer spaces to operators of the cultural sector as well as activists of the civil society forced into exile. The initiative, finally,  also supports all those artistic and cultural expressions that, resisting the current situation, promote the idea of a peaceful future for Europe.

[7] Emilia Maria Magrone, L’azione dell’Unesco per la protezione dei beni culturali inseriti nella lista del patrimonio mondiale culturale e naturale in caso di conflitti armati, in La Protezione Internazionale ed europea dei beni culturali, Andrea Cannone (a cura di).

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