Protecting the past to protect the future

Tuesday, 03 April 2012 17:48

On April 2, an exhibition devoted to the history of an international treaty on protection of cultural monuments and to the treaty’s initiator Nikolay Roerich opened in UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris. Nikolay Roerich was a Russian philosopher and artist who lived in India for a long time.

‘The Roerich Pact’ is the first international document which was ever adopted in order to ensure better protection of the world’s cultural heritage.

The idea of drafting this treaty first came to Nikolay Roerich in 1929.

In 1932, an international conference in the Belgian city of Bruges appealed to the world’s nations to give legal recognition to the Roerich Pact.

The exhibition which is currently held at the UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris is timed to coincide with the 80th anniversary of the Bruges conference. But the exhibition is not only devoted to the history of the Roerich Pact, it also tells the story of Nikolay Roerich’s life and work.

A lot of the exhibits have been provided by the Roerich Center based in Moscow – Roerich’s paintings, books written by him and a banner carrying the symbol of the Roerich Pact – three red circles surrounded by a red ring on a white background. Now, this symbol has become the symbol for Nikolay Roerich’s followers all over the world, who have come to form some sort of a religious cult.

“Nikolay Roerich was a man of many talents – a philosopher, painter, archeologist and poet,” Professor Evgeny Matochkin from the International Slavic Academy says. “I would call him one of the most prominent figures of cultural revival in Russia in the early 20th century.”

“At that time, Russia experienced a cultural renaissance, which may be compared with the epoch of Renaissance in Italy which followed the Middle Ages. This period in the history of Russia, now known as “the Silver Age”, produced many great poets and philosophers, and Roerich was one of them.”

After the 1917 revolution, Roerich moved to live in India. Although he was a religious philosopher, some of his writings did get published in the atheistic Soviet Union, but still not all of them.

“At present, Russians have a chance of getting aquiainted with the entire heritage of Nikolay Roerich,” Professor Matochkin says, “but it takes a lot of time to understand the ideas of this great man. Roerich’s talent had many aspects, but, first of all, he was a philosopher and a public figure.”

“Now, we honor him as the author of a treaty aimed at protecting the world’s cultural heritage. The logo of the treaty, which was designed by Roerich himself – three circles inside a ring – symbolizes the unity of the Past, Present and Future.”

The Roerich Pact formed the basis of an international convention which the UN adopted in 1954. This convention outlines the international rules concerning the protection of cultural property during armed conflicts.

Unfortunately, it must be stressed that both the treaty and the Convention are more often breached than observed. Practice has shown that people care little about protecting historical monuments during armed conflicts. Still, more and more people are now beginning to realize that by protecting history, they protect their own and their descendants’ future.

The exhibition devoted to the Roerich Pact will be open until April 6.

On the day of its opening, several cultural figures from various countries were awarded by a Russian prize “The Tree of Life”. Those awarded included former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali and well-known French singer Charles Aznavour.

Olga Bugrova Apr 3, 2012

The Voice of Russia

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