When I see the Russian violence in Ukraine, I get upset. Really upset. First and foremost, I get upset because the massive aggression against Ukrainian civilians is revolting. Like most people, I feel helpless and angry. And I wish there was something I could do to make it stop.
But there is something else that is bothering me when I watch the reports coming out of Ukraine. Now that every individual has a smartphone in their pocket, live reports are pouring in from all sides, 24/7, at every possible social media channel. And what we see is utter destruction of civilian areas. Besides their despicable attack on innocent Ukrainian people, the Russians are flattening complete towns in Ukraine. Like they are saying “if I can’t have her, he can’t have her either!”
The Russian military and its leadership choose to attack our European values
In an interview with a Portugese radio station, Sneška Quaedvlieg–Mihailović (the secretary general of Europa Nostra, the European voice of civil society committed to cultural heritage) recalls that “Europe has an intangible heritage that comprises values such as the commitment to peace, democracy, human rights and law enforcement. The war that Russia is waging in Ukraine is the denial of all these values. That’s why we said that this is not a Ukrainian war. It is a war for all who are committed to, defend and cherish these values.”
Besides our common intangible heritage, the Russians are attacking tangible European heritage. When I think of architecture, I think of cultural history. I strongly believe we are what we build. And our built heritage is (proof of) who we are. Architecture tells the story of a people. And I can’t help but feel that the Russian destruction of European heritage is an attempt to wipe out – at least part of – our common European history.
The Hague Conventions and the World Heritage Convention
What is referred to as the Hague Convention of 1899 consisted of three main treaties and three additional declarations with Regulations concerning the laws and customs of war on land. Isn’t it ironic that the First Hague Conference came from a proposal on 24 August 1898 by Russian Tsar Nicholas II? Nicholas and Count Mikhail Nikolayevich Muravyov, his foreign minister, were instrumental in initiating the first Hague conference. The conference opened on 18 May 1899, the Tsar’s birthday. The treaties, declarations, and final act of the conference were signed on 29 July of that year, and they entered into force on 4 September 1900.
But not only did the Russians sign that treaty. On 4 January 1957, the Russian Federation also signed the ‘Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict with Regulations for the Execution of the Convention‘. This convention states that ‘damage to cultural property belonging to any people whatsoever means damage to the cultural heritage of all mankind. The preservation of the cultural heritage is of great importance for all peoples of the world and that it is important that this heritage should receive international protection.’ In this convention all rules and regulations for its execution are elaborated.
The World Heritage Convention was initiated by the United States in order to safeguard places of high cultural or natural importance. Based on the draft convention that UNESCO had initiated, a single text was eventually agreed upon by all parties, and the “Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage” was adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO on 16 November 1972. The Convention came into force on 17 December 1975. As of June 2020, it has been ratified by 193 states parties, including the Russian Federation.
On 31 March 2022, Mariya Gabriel (European Commissioner for innovation, research, culture, education and youth) spoke some powerful words at Europa Nostra’s Announcement of the 7 Most Endangered Heritage Sites 2022.
Heritage is a vital part of our identity. And the preservation of our heritage is an essential part of protecting a sense of identity. A sense of who we are. And because in times of crisis culture gives us something to hold on to, cultural heritage promotes togetherness. Cultural heritage connects our society. So, to be better prepared for the future, we need to preserve our past. Only then, we can leave a lasting legacy for the generations to come.
In order to not forget who we are, we should cherish and safeguard our built heritage. Or at least document it and (as stated in the UNESCO Heritage Convention) increase public awareness. So that is what I personally chose to do.
Europa Nostra is joining forces with Global Heritage Fund to support the defenders of cultural heritage in Ukraine as well as those working in the cultural heritage world who have been rendered refugees in their escape from Russia’s brutal aggression. Together with other international and European partners, they are actively working to ensure that Ukraine’s history will not be erased or rewritten. This includes providing emergency support for people working for museums, sites and cultural institutions. Your generous donation will help Ukraine’s people stand firm in defense of the endangered heritage in their independent and sovereign country.
You can help too! Donate at https://www.europanostra.org/ukraine-crisis/
The pictures of Ukrainian Art Nouveau architecture in this post were generously sent to me by Paul, a proud heritage devotee from Kyiv. You can find and support Paul’s Instagram Profile here: @tretiakov_antiq. Stay safe Paul!
Jacques Lasserre has taken it upon himself to create a map with all Art Nouveau places in the world. You can access his Art Nouveau atlas in its entirety here. Just for the sake of what is going on in Ukraine right now, he started documenting the Art Nouveau architecture in Kyiv and Lviv.
Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict
Europa Nostra and Global Heritage Fund launch joint crowdfunding campaign to support the defenders of Ukraine’s endangered heritage
Europa Nostra stands in solidarity with Ukraine
Finishing materials for facades and interiors of Art Nouveau buildings (Examples from Ukraine & Poland)
Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907
Discover the History of Olesya Honchara 33, Kyiv
House with Chimaeras: Facts & Legends About Unusual Kyiv Art Nouveau Building
Threatened by Putin’s bombs: Ukraine’s architectural marvels – in pictures
Ukrainian heritage is today the most threatened in Europe
Ukraine war: Fact-checking Russia’s biological weapons claims
Wikipedia: Art Nouveau architecture in Ukraine
Wikipedia: World Heritage Convention