Museum professionals accuse Russia of cultural ‘genocide’ and ethical violations in Ukraine at major industry conference in Prague

Staff members of the Russian Museum of International Council of Museums (ICOM) violated the organization’s code of ethics with their actions in Ukraine, according to accusations made by several ICOM members at the organization’s General Conference in Prague 2022.

Ahead of today’s official opening of the three-day event, ICOM representatives from 10 nations participated in a Sunday panel titled “Heritage protection responses in Ukraineon how they worked to protect the nation’s cultural heritage in the face of war. They also discussed how Russian museum workers aided and abetted the invasion, which one panelist compared to “genocide for cultural reasons”.

Even more strikingly, Anastasiia Cherednychenko, vice-president of ICOM Ukraine, called for the expulsion of ICOM Russia from the organization. She alleged that Russian museum employees helped Russian forces illegally transfer artifacts from Ukrainian collections and staged exhibits that serve as propaganda to support the invasion.

Since its foundation in 1946, ICOM has never excluded a national committee. ICOM Russia did not send a delegation to this year’s conference.

The completely destroyed building of the museum of the Ukrainian philosopher Hryhoriy Skovoroda after a Russian bombardment. Photo by Mykhaylo Palinchak/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.

Many panelists were outspoken in their criticism of Russia, with Klaus Staubermann, CEO of ICOM Germany, apologizing for “getting emotional” in his plea for an end to cultural destruction.

In response to concerns about the actions of ICOM Russia, the parent organization has announced plans establish a protocol for following the ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums in the event of a conflict. This will be a priority for the ICOM Standing Ethics Committee (ETHCOM) after the conference.

“I hope this is the start of a new stage of discussion within ICOM,” said Kateryna Chuyeva, Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Culture and member of the Board of Directors of ICOM Ukraine, during of a press conference after the opening speech.

To date, 450 cultural monuments have been destroyed or damaged during the fighting, including 34 museums, according to the Ukrainian Cultural Foundation. cultural loss map.

Employees of Khortytsia, a museum island in Zaporizhzhia prepare works of art to take away for preservation in the west of the country in Zaporizhzhia on August 12, 2022. Photo by Marina Moyseyenko/ via Getty Images.

Employees of Khortytsia, a museum island in Zaporizhzhia prepare works of art to take away for preservation in the west of the country in Zaporizhzhia on August 12, 2022. Photo by Marina Moyseyenko/ via Getty Images.

Relevant institutions include the Hryhorii Skovoroda House Museum in Kharkiv, the Kuindzhi Art Museum in Mariupol, the Ivankiv History and Local History Museum featuring works by Ukrainian folk artists. Maria Prymatchenkoand the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Complex in Kyiv.

Many of the presentations during yesterday’s panel on Ukraine included photographs showing the country’s museums demolished by Russian bombing. Chuyeva also shared a photograph of a Ukrainian museum gallery stripped down to the posts, its contents evacuated for safekeeping.

One slide offered a series of damning quotes from Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, taken from an interview with Russian media RGRU.

Artifacts are stored for possible damage from shelling at the Andrey Sheptytsky National Museum in Lviv, Ukraine, in March 2022. Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images.

Artifacts are stored for possible damage from shelling at the Andrey Sheptytsky National Museum in Lviv, Ukraine, in March 2022. Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images.

“Our latest exhibitions abroad are just a powerful cultural offensive. A kind of ‘special operation’, if you will, that a lot of people don’t like,” Piotrovsky said. “But we are coming. And no one will be allowed to interfere with our offensive.

“My opinion on military actions is not so simple either. On the one hand, wars bring blood and murder,” he continued, “but on the other, that’s how people, that’s how nations assert themselves.”

Aware of the dangers hanging over Ukraine’s cultural heritage since the beginning of the conflict, ICOM has published a statement condemning Russian military aggression on February 24, the first day of the invasion.

Scythian golden pectoral from the royal tomb of Tolstaja Mogila kurgan, 4th century BCE, collection of the Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine, Kyiv.  Works like this are at risk of being looted during the Russian invasion and could be on the ICOM Red List for Ukraine.  Photos from the History/Universal Images group via Getty Images.

Scythian golden pectoral from the royal tomb of Tolstaja Mogila kurgan, 4th century BCE, collection of the Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine, Kyiv. Works like this are at risk of being looted during the Russian invasion and could be on the ICOM Red List for Ukraine. Photos from the History/Universal Images group via Getty Images.

In order to combat the trafficking of looted Ukrainian cultural property, ICOM plans to publish an emergency red list of cultural property at risk in the coming weeks. The project, announcement end of June, follows a red list of 10 South-East European countries published last October. Previous red lists have highlighted the risks to the cultural heritage of countries such as Iraq.

In Ukraine, items likely to be targeted by traffickers include Scythian artifacts, manuscripts, paintings, folk art, rare coins and religious objects.

“ICOM condemns the deliberate destruction of Ukrainian cultural heritage and reminds Russia of its obligation as a state party to the Hague Convention and for the protection of conflicting cultural property,” said ICOM President Alberto Garlandini at Artnet News during a press conference at the event. “The deliberate destruction of cultural heritage is a war crime and can be prosecuted by the international court.”

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