Events dedicated to the 80th anniversary of the Roerich Pact are being organized these days in various countries around the world.
Alexander Kadakin, Russia's Ambassador to India, vice-president and life member of the Board of Trustees of the International Roerich Memorial Trust (IRMT) speaks about this document in an interview with Natalya Benyukh, correspondent of the agency "Sputnik".
Q: The 80th anniversary of the Roerich Pact is being celebrated in April. What is the significance of this international document from today's perspective?
A. Kadakin: April 15, 1935, the date of signing of the Roerich Pact on protection of artistic and academic institutions and historical sites, is considered as its birthday. It was marked by a ceremony held in Washington in the presence of representatives of twenty-one American states and a group 0f followers and disciples of the Roerichs, specially invited to this historic event. However, it is no secret that Nicholas Roerich, an outstanding artist, scientist and philosopher, began to formulate the ideas contained in this unique document much earlier, during his visits to ancient Russian cities in 1903-1904. Subsequent revolutionary upheavals and wars that wreaked untold misery and destruction in many countries strengthened the conviction of Nicholas Roerich about the need for speedy realization of his plan. It is symbolic that the Pact was signed at a time when Hitler’s fascism was already raising its ugly head in the heart of Europe. Nicholas Roerich, as well as his wife Helena and sons Yuri and Svyatoslav, who worked tirelessly for the promotion and advocacy of this document, clearly understood what a terrible disaster was casting its shadow on the whole world, and spared no effort to create legal preconditions for saving the cultural heritage.
Even after eight decades, one cannot fail to pay tribute to their profound vision and selfless work in this noble endeavor. The Roerich Pact is not only one of the most important international legal instruments of the first half of the 20th century, which holistically addresses the issue of protection of cultural treasures. Essentially, this is a comprehensive programme of action based on the recognition of the key role of culture in human development. This is a civilization manifesto defining the principles without which a truly peaceful coexistence of various countries, nations and religions is impossible.
The Pact is comprehensive and aims to protect a wide range of cultural treasures, including historical and architectural monuments, museums, and institutions of science, art, and education. It protects not only movable and immovable cultural heritage, but even the personnel looking after cultural objects.
I should also mention another aspect, supplementing the understanding of the scope and significance of the Pact. This document, which was the forerunner of the 1954 Hague Convention, had a powerful influence on civil society and provided an important impetus to the international movement to protect cultural heritage. It served as the basis for numerous humanitarian projects and initiatives, influential public associations including those enjoying a well-deserved recognition and credibility in the world today.
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The importance of the Pact cannot be overemphasized. Nowadays, cultural values are often under threat due to local armed conflicts, rampant extremism and terrorist attacks. Tragic and irreparable losses are shocking. Let us recall the barbaric demolition of Buddhist monuments in Afghanistan by the Taliban, the deliberate destruction and looting of priceless cultural relics in Iraq, and the flagrant damage to museum exhibits in the cities captured by rampaging ISIS militants. Akin to such criminal vandalism are the frequent cynical attacks on monuments and museum complexes holding the sacred memory of the tragic events, enormous sacrifices and heroic deeds during the Second World War in some of the "civilized" European countries. On the eve of the 70th anniversary of the Great Victory, they appear particularly blasphemous now.
What is happening now in the northeast of Ukraine at the doorsteps of Russia is also a cause for great anxiety. There have been reports of destruction of many Orthodox churches in Slavyansk, Lugansk, and other cities in the Donbas area because of massive shelling by the Ukrainian forces. One of the victims of these criminal actions of the Kiev authorities was a rare piece of beauty-- the wooden Annunciation Cathedral in Gorlovka, which perished in a fire. In Donetsk, the exploding shells severely damaged one of the halls of the State Museum, which houses exhibits of great historical and material value. And, of course, the lack of reliable information about the fate of the Gorlovka art museum, the epicentre of fierce fighting, is also a cause for grave concern. After all, the museum has 28 paintings by Nicholas Roerich, drawn between 1893 and 1916, and considered as the pearl of its rich collection. This is the largest collection of works by the great artist in Ukraine. Have the paintings been rescued? There is no clear answer to this question. I do not want to aggravate the situation, but am deeply upset over the possibility of losing in the fire of enmity that has broken out in Ukraine the creations of a wizard who ardently defended the idea of building peace through culture, called for prevention of attacks on cultural heritage, and was convinced of the possibility of protecting it through his Pact. The prophetic paintings of Roerich, who warned of the dire consequences of war, unwittingly come to mind.
Q: You are the vice-president and life member of the Board of Trustees of the International Roerich Memorial Trust (IRMT). How is the memory of the Roerich family, who considered India their second homeland, revered in this country? How is the Indian side cooperating with Russia in preserving and promoting the heritage of the Roerich family members?
A. Kadakin: India sincerely cherishes everything that is associated with the Roerich family, their priceless artistic, scientific and spiritual heritage. For many decades, the wonderful family of our outstanding compatriots has remained for millions of Indians the embodiment of the multifaceted cultural and historical links between India and Russia. Of this, I get convinced every time I visit the Roerich estate in the township of Naggar in Western Himalayas. For nearly a quarter century, the International Roerich Memorial Trust (IRMT) has been active there. I really do appreciate the fact that the task of launching that institution was entrusted to me in 1991 by Svyatoslav Roerich, who dreamed of turning the estate into a modern museum complex. Over the past years, we have managed to do a lot to put into practice the ideas of Svyatoslav Roerich, although we had to proceed from a very modest beginning — volunteer "brigades" from the Russian Embassy staff came here on Saturdays and Sundays to put in order the territory of the estate and clean the residential building which was turned into a museum.
At present, the memorial estate of the Roerich family has become one of the major tourist attractions in Himachal Pradesh. Every year it is visited by approximately 100,000 visitors from India and many other countries, including, of course, Russia. Thanks to the efforts of IRMT and, without any exaggeration, selfless work of its curators — at first an elderly German lady friend of the Roerich family, sister Ursula Eichstaedt, then AlenaAdamkova who worked there for 10 years and now, Larissa Surgina who has taken over as curator, the estate regularly organizes various cultural and educational events, including art exhibitions, scientific seminars, children's drawing competitions. A good tradition has been set up by organizing regular spring and autumn festivals of Russian culture with the support of the Embassy and Rossotrudnichestvo in India. In October last year, for the Jubilee celebrations of the birthdays of Nicholas and Svetoslav Roerich, we were able to invite to this festival two Russian artistic troupes whose performances were a great success.
Of course, much remains to be done. First of all, there is an urgent need for repair and restoration of the Roerich house and museum complex. A comprehensive project has been prepared by Russian experts invited by the International Centre of the Roerichs (ICR, Moscow). We insist that the work be started immediately. These tasks and other development issues concerning the memorial estate were discussed in December 2014 at a meeting of the Board of Trustees of the IRMT under the chairmanship of Russia’s long-time friend, Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh, DrVirbhadra Singh. Not everything comes as easy as we would like. However, the meeting showed that we are united with our Indian friends in our joint efforts to turn the Roerich estate in Naggar into a modern world-class cultural, scientific and educational centre and museum complex. In my opinion, the successful implementation of these plans calls for a greater involvement of India’s central government along with the local authorities. It is important to expand the assistance from the Ministry of External Affairs and the Ministry of Culture of India, as well as the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR). We also hope that Russian philanthropists and sponsors will participate in this noble endeavour.
Another object of the Roerich Heritage in India is the memorial estate “Tataguni” on the outskirts of Bangalore, owned by Svyatoslav Roerich and his wife Devika Rani, the superstar of the early Indian cinema. Since the mid-1990s, the development of “Tataguni” is in the hands of the Government of Karnataka and a Council created by it. Last February, I had the opportunity to visit this place once again. The overall impression was good: work is being carried out on repair and restoration of the mansion, the studio of Svyatoslav Roerich, garden and park facilities, including a unique collection of lanaloe volatile-oil-bearing plants. The State Government has allocated considerable funds for this purpose — about $820.000. However, I must admit that I was upset and am concerned about the state of the lake, which has always been the crown jewel of the estate, and has now almost disappeared due to unauthorized use of water resources by the inhabitants of neighboring villages. At a meeting with the leadership of the Council, I stressed the importance of reviving and maintaining the lake. We hope that the government of Karnataka can solve this problem. It has repeatedly confirmed its determination to execute meticulously the reconstruction plans and has warded off attempts to undermine “Tataguni” through thoughtless projects of creating the city landfill and building a subway line depot on its territory.
The Russian side fully shares this concern and supports the steps to ensure that the estate should turn into a modern museum complex and cultural and educational centre. Immediate steps have to be taken to create suitable conditions for exhibiting the paintings of Svyatoslav Roerich. At present, more than 50 of his works are lying idle in the vaults of Bangalore’s Art Gallery. Some paintings require major restoration, and we have discussed with Indian partners the possibility of inviting the best Russian experts for this purpose. I am confident that as a result of this comprehensive approach, “Tataguni” will become not only an attractive tourist destination in South India for Indians, Russians and citizens of other countries in the future, but also another shining example of Russian-Indian friendship and spiritual and cultural togetherness of our nations.
Q: What events are planned in India to mark the 80th anniversary of the Roerich Pact?
A. Kadakin: Actually, the events to celebrate the anniversary in India already began last year. And it is quite natural if we take into account the fact that Nicholas Roerich lived and worked in India, in the Himalayan estate in Naggar, during the final stages of preparation of the Pact. There are many important events connected with the Indian history of the Pact. In particular, in November 1938, the Banner of Peace was officially unfurled in Karachi, one of the major cities of British India. Ten years later, in August 1948, the government of independent India led by Jawaharlal Nehru decided to approve the Roerich Pact.
An ICR project directly dedicated to the anniversary was launched in 2014 with the support of the Russian Embassy in India. This is a large-scale thematic exhibition titled “Roerich Pact. Past and Present”, which includes copies of archival documents and photographs, as well as reproductions of paintings by Nicholas and Svyatoslav Roerich. Over the past six months, it has been shown with great success in Shimla, Naggar, Chandigarh and Gandhinagar. It is expected that this year the exhibition will continue to travel around the country and will reach the inhabitants of several other large Indian cities.
Currently, in collaboration with the ICR, we are giving finishing touches to a large exposition of the paintings of Nicholas Roerich which we have called "The Sacred Spring of Victory". We plan to show it in New Delhi, at the museum complex in Naggar, and later at the Russian Centre of Science and Culture. We would like to present the exhibits as an embodiment of the essence of the Roerich pact, as a call to preserve peace and universal cultural heritage, to convey to the visitors the idea of triumph of the forces of good and light over evil, captured in the paintings of our illustrious compatriot. Thus, the exhibition dedicated to the 80th anniversary of the Roerich pact will also become an outstanding event in the celebrations in India marking the 70th anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War.