On 15 April 2020 an international panel discussion “Roerich Pact. Peace through Culture”, dedicated to the 85th Anniversary of the Roerich Pact, 75th Anniversary of the Victory in the World War II and its inseparable part the Victory of the Soviet nation in the Great Patriotic War 1941-1945, was held online via interactive broadcasting.
The panel discussion was organized by the International Center of the Roerichs. Co-organizers were the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, Kyrgyz-Russian Slavic University, International Organization of Peace Foundations, International Committee for the Preservation of the Roerichs’ Heritage, International Council of the Roerich Organizations named after S. N. Roerich, European Association for the Support of the International Centre & Museum of the Roerichs (EURASSIM), Charitable Foundation named after Helena Roerich.
223 representatives of non-governmental organizations, cultural luminaries and scientists from 20 countries (the Russian Federation, Latvia, Estonia, Germany, Austria, Finland, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Belarus, Bulgaria, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania, Canada, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Croatia, Armenia) participated in the Panel Discussion.
This year the 85th Anniversary of the Roerich Pact, Treaty on the Protection of Artistic and Scientific Institutions and Historic Monuments is celebrated. It was elaborated by Nicholas Roerich and signed on 15 April 1935 in the USA by the representatives of 21 countries. In addition to the Pact, Nicholas Roerich also presented a distinctive flag – the Banner of Peace to mark cultural monuments subject to protection during armed conflicts and peacetime. The basis for the ideas of the Roerich Pact is formed by Nicholas Roerich’s deep understanding of the leading role of culture in social evolution, in the development of human’s nature as well as the desire to protect world cultural heritage and create new opportunities for its comprehension, study and creative development in the future.
Promotion of the Roerich Pact was a sign of the times. The Treaty was presented by Nicholas Roerich on the eve of World War II in order to preserve as much cultural heritage as it was possible and minimize demographic, ecological and other losses. However, the European countries and the USSR did not sign the Roerich Pact and a significant part of their cultural heritage was lost or damaged. After the World War II the most important principles and terms of the Roerich Pact provided the basis for The Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict 1954, UNESCO Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage 1972 and other UNESCO instruments.
We would like to underline that the Roerich Pact is not only one of the most important treaties but it is also a programme of action aimed at preservation of culture and achievement of constructive interaction between countries, nations, religions and civilizations. Firstly, the Roerich Pact provides the highest level of protection for the widest range of cultural objects regardless of their type of property, namely scientific, educational, cultural institutions and historical monuments. Secondly, the Treaty provides cultural heritage protection in the event of armed conflicts and during peacetime. Thirdly, the Pact implies not only protection of cultural institutions but their staff in particular. Fourthly, its large educational potential should also be taken into consideration. All these facts make the ideas of the Roerich Pact extremely topical in the modern world, when irretrievable loss of cultural heritage leads to the destruction of an integral cultural space, spiritual impoverishment and deprives countries and nations of thousand-year accumulations of cultural and historical memory.
Nevertheless, cultural heritage has an enormous potential. Created in accordance with principles of beauty, harmony between spirit and matter, cultural monuments condense and preserve centuries-old knowledge and experience, priceless cultural and spiritual achievements of different nations. Artworks of great creators contain huge reserves of the energy of Beauty, which is the basis for culture. It contains the sense of Nicholas Roerich’s words that “Culture is the admiration of Light,” since Light is Beauty. If cultural heritage is destroyed, its energy of Beauty is destroyed too, as it needs to have a certain form to be preserved. If its form is destroyed, the energy leaves. That is why it is important to protect and preserve cultural heritage. Its destruction causes irreparable damage to culture and evolution of the humanity.
Despite this fact, one has to admit that cultural objects need protecting and preserving. Due to indifference, irresponsibility and ignorant attitude, we face the destruction of cultural heritage even in peacetime. One cannot imagine the number of cultural objects destroyed every year during armed conflicts and terroristic acts! Besides, the illegal trafficking of significant cultural property is growing rapidly. In the 21st century, such deplorable acts have become global. One can recall numerous historical monuments destroyed during the tragic events in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Mali, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Nigeria, Israel, Palestine etc. The international community was shocked by the recent statements of the President of the USA threatening Iran with possible strikes against its historical monuments, regardless of the fact that the USA is a signatory party to the Roerich Pact.
Problems in the Russian cultural field are extremely alarming. The number of museums, theatres and libraries is decreasing; cultural property is being looted; the government fails to fulfil the obligations to the donators of cultural heritage; premises and property of cultural organizations are being seized etc. There are also serious problems concerning cultural heritage protection. For example, archaeological monuments on Cape Okhta can be destroyed due to the construction work. Moreover, such works are carried out in the protected area of the Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory, the UNESCO World Heritage Site;
the chapel of St. Anastasia (Pskov) and its frescos are in critical condition; in 2019 one of the oldest buildings in Ufa Polezhaevskiy boarding house, a cultural heritage site, was demolished; in the year of the 70th Anniversary of Victory the school named after Zoe and Alexander Kosmodemiansky, monument of federal importance, dedicated to the heroes of the Great Patriotic War, was destroyed.
Admitting the significance of culture, on 24 March 2017, UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2347, which officially recognizes that cultural heritage protection is one of the main aspects of security.
All the above-mentioned facts confirm the vital importance of the principles of the Roerich Pact as well as the topicality of Nicholas Roerich’s idea of Peace through Culture, expressing the verity, according to which peace can be established only by knowledge and education, morality and spirituality, mutual respect and tolerance, goodwill and equitable dialogue. Culture is the only path leading to sustainable peace and prevention of wars.
It is necessary to underline that significant aims of the Roerich Pact, considering preservation of culture and cultural heritage, have never been achieved by the government only. The initiator of the Roerich Pact paid great attention to the society above all. Understanding of this fact on the part of states and willingness of the officials to fully cooperate and have a dialogue with the community is an extremely important factor necessary for the effective cultural heritage protection and, thus, maintenance of peace by means of Culture.
The non-governmental organization International Center of the Roerichs (Moscow) founded by Svetoslav Roerich, together with Russian, European, Asian and American Roerich organizations, has significantly contributed to the promotion of the evolutionary ideas of the Roerich Pact. Cultural and peacemaking initiatives of the International Center of the Roerichs (ICR) are widely supported by Russian and international community. These initiatives are the following: establishment of the non-governmental Museum named after Nicholas Roerich in Moscow in accordance with Svetoslav Roerich’s concept; restoring the architectural monument dated XVII-XIX century the Lopukhins’ Estate from ruins in Moscow city center without any financial support from the Government;
organization of international educational projects, promoting ideas of the Banner of Peace and the Roerich Pact, namely, exhibitions, dedicated to the history of the Roerich Pact abroad, anniversary scientific conferences, international exhibition projects “Roerich Pact. History and Modernity” (with the support of UNESCO) and “Roerich Pact. Peace through Culture”, participation in the programs “The Banner of Peace in Space” and the Banner of Peace on the South Pole; forming of a unique collection of paintings by the Roerichs, the largest in the world;
bringing back to Russia more than 400 artworks of Nicholas and Svetoslav Roerich with the support of art patrons etc. The ICR was presented with a number of Russian and European awards for its activity in the field of cultural heritage protection and its contribution to the development of culture. In 2016 the ICR was nominated for Nobel Peace Prize.
Despite its international prestige, broad peacemaking, cultural and educational activity, in 2017 the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation destroyed the non-governmental Museum named after Nicholas Roerich of the International Center of the Roerichs and the Roerichs’ heritage owned by the ICR was seized without any court order. Even the fact that the International Center of the Roerichs had been working for the benefit of Russia and the whole world for 26 years did not stop the officials of the Ministry of Culture. Seizure of the Roerichs’ heritage from the ICR made by the governmental officials without drawing up any source documents creates conditions for its loss. This fact is an issue of a particular concern of the society. Who could have predicted that one day the heritage of the initiator of the Roerich Pact might need international protection in his homeland during peacetime?
One cannot omit the glaring fact that in 2019, the Roerichs anniversary year, the officials of the Ministry of Culture demanded that the International Center of the Roerichs dismantle and remove the unique memorial complex dedicated to the Roerichs from the Lopukhins’ estate.
It is necessary to underline that numerous complaints about destructive policy of the Ministry of Culture considering the Roerichs’ heritage, the ICR and its non-governmental Museum, made by the international community, have not been examined by state authorities and, thus, the destruction of Russian cultural heritage still continues. During the recent years, upon the initiative of the Ministry of Culture, the authorities are trying to involve the International Center of the Roerichs in a forcible bankruptcy procedure, by imposing an excessive tax (currently amounting to 37 million rubles) for the use of paintings by the Roerichs belonging to the organization in its museum activity on the ICR. This is an unprecedented case as no museum or gallery pays taxes for the display of its collections!
We believe that the arbitrary actions of the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation against the Roerichs’ heritage violate principles of development of civil society, aims and purposes of the State enshrined in Russian Constitution, Principles of Russian legislation on Culture and basic principles of the international law considering cultural heritage protection.
Taking into account all above-mentioned facts and admitting everlasting significance of the Roerich Pact and the Banner of Peace for the preservation of cultural heritage, we call upon the international and Russian community to support the following appeal made on behalf of the participants of our panel discussion by taking the following steps:
— to introduce courses dedicated to the Roerich Pact and cultural heritage protection in educational institutions, in order to implement the main areas of educational and cultural policy of numerous countries;
— to use terms and principles of the Roerich Pact in order to maintain progressive development of the international law on cultural heritage protection, taking into consideration the highest level of unconditional protection, provided by the Roerich Pact to the widest range of cultural objects (museums, historical monuments, scientific, artistic, educational, cultural institutions and their staff) during armed conflicts and peacetime;
— to use all the possible legal and cultural measures to protect cultural heritage of world significance, represented by the Roerichs’ heritage;
— to encourage the adoption of cultural priorities in all spheres of life on governmental level and introduce culture as a national idea into legislation;
— on the occasion of the anniversary of the Roerich Pact, supporting Nicholas Roerich’s idea considering celebration of the Universal Day of Culture, to suggest that non-governmental, cultural and scientific organizations together with governmental bodies of all levels celebrate 15 April, the day when the Roerich Pact was signed, as the Universal Day of Culture and cultural heritage protection;
— in order to prevent the destruction of an architectural monument connected with the name of Nicholas Roerich, chapel of St. Anastasia in Pskov, to provide financial support in order to organize renovation of the unique cultural heritage object of federal significance. Bank details (website of the Charitable Foundation named after Helena Roerich http://www.found-helenaroerich.ru/anastas-chapelle/index.php);
— taking into account high historical and cultural significance of architectural and archeological monuments on Cape Okhta (Saint Petersburg) for Russian and European history, to demand that the construction activity on this territory is stopped; to support the initiative according to which an archeological park should be created on Cape Okhta;
— to call upon the Russian Government to fully restore the activity of the non-governmental Museum named after Nicholas Roerich of the International Center of the Roerichs (Moscow) at the Lopukhins’ estate, restituting the violated rights and returning the illegally seized Roerichs’ heritage.
— to call upon the Russian Federal Tax Service to dismiss the bankruptcy case of the International Center of the Roerichs and dissolve garnishment since the whole procedure was initiated on false grounds;
— taking into account an urgent need in the peacemaking activity of the ICR aimed at promotion of the ideas of the Roerich Pact in Russia and abroad, to support the new exhibition project of the ICR “Roerich Pact. Peace through Culture”;
— to suggest that the Russian Government together with the International Center of the Roerichs, International Committee for the Preservation of the Roerichs’ Heritage, International Council of the Roerich Organizations named after S. N. Roerich, establish a social and governmental commission on examination of wholeness of the Heritage on the basis of accounting documents of the ICR and conditions of its storage, in order to prevent looting and to preserve the unique Roerichs’ heritage, seized from the ICR;
— in order to protect cultural and educational activity of the International Center of the Roerichs the unique Russian organization established by Svetoslav Roerich, which has become the space for new creative search and ideas for the benefit of the whole world, to render it financial and other charitable assistance. Bank details (website of the International Center of the Roerichs http://www.icr.su/rus/contacts/bank_details.php.)