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square PROTECTION OF CULTURAL PROPERTY
IN SWITZERLAND: A PERMANENT CHALLENGE

Rino Büchel


Protection of cultural property (PCP) today is based on the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict of 1954. This international treaty was set up in order to protect cultural property in times of war or armed conflict from destruction and damage as well as from theft, pillage, and other forms of illegal appropriation. The regulations of the Hague Convention were complemented and specified by the First Protocol to the Hague Convention of 1954 and the Second Protocol of 1999. All three agreements form part of humanitarian law.

Cultural sovereignty in Switzerland belongs to the cantons and, thus, they are responsible for the protection of our cultural heritage as well. The federal authorities are charged with elaborating basic concepts and providing financial support for certain protective measures. However, the manner of implementation of these civil measures is up to the cantons.

The focus of federal efforts for an efficient and functional protection of cultural property is primarily on training, awareness raising, practical exercises and targeted measures for the protection of endangered cultural property.

As a consequence, the main emphasis of the following explanations is on projects the Swiss Section for the Protection of Cultural Property (PCP-section) in the Federal Office for Civil Protection (FOCP) has been able to realise up to date. This small section is responsible for providing the cantons with the necessary background for a successful implementation of PCP-measures in their area of accountability. All the members of the PCP-section in the FOCP have earned their university-degrees in the humanities and cover the subjects history, art history and literature.

 

1. The Swiss PCP-Inventory

The PCP-Inventory is, as it were, the backbone of the protection of cultural property in Switzerland [Figs. 1-2]. For the third edition, which appeared in 2009, all cultural property objects of national importance were identified according to uniform criteria (architectural and artistic quality, quality with regard to art history, written records, historical criteria, technical criteria, environment, situational context), which were predetermined in an evaluation matrix [Fig. 3]. This was a complex and demanding task for all the parties involved. And it was due only to the close cooperation between these parties the cantons, the relevant federal authorities, and the federal commission for the protection of cultural property (advisory committee to the Swiss government), which had the lead that the project could be successfully completed [1]. The main achievements of the project are the following:

- All objects of national importance, i.e. buildings, collections, archaeological sites and special cases (e.g. steamboats, cable cars, etc.) were evaluated and the results the justification why an object is considered to be of national importance recorded in matrices.

- For the first time, important collections in museums, libraries, and archives as well as archaeological objects were evaluated systematically and classified according to uniform criteria.

- About a hundred company archives among others of Nestle, ABB, and UBS have been included in the inventory.

- The cultural property objects of national importance are now also available on the internet, via public Geographic Information System (GIS) [Fig. 4]. Moreover, this data has been integrated into the Electronic Situation Display (ESD) of the National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC). Thus, PCP-information is readily accessible also in view of a large-scale incidence.

 

2. Safeguard Documentation, Microfilm

The Federation offers financial support to cultural institutions, historical monument sections or archaeological departments in the cantons: the federal administration covers 20% of the cost necessary for the establishment of safeguard documentations for objects of national and regional importance. In general, safeguard documentations are comprised of plans, photographs, specialist documentations etc., i.e. documents which are meant to make possible the reinstatement of immovable cultural property in case of damage or destruction. Just like archive material, safeguard documentations are copied on microfilm for long-term storage [Fig. 5]. The original film is stored in the cantons while the Federation buys a copy for the federal microfilm archive [Fig. 6] situated 30 kilometres outside Berne, the Swiss capital. Today, the archive contains about 69,000 microfilms.

 

3. PCP-Shelters

In the Sixties, Switzerland started constructing protected shelters for movable cultural property in important archives, libraries, museums, and churches [Fig. 7]. Twenty years later, such shelters began to be erected also outside large cities and in peripheral regions in order to create storerooms for smaller collections. A major reason for this development was the notion that emergency shelters were needed in the vicinity of endangered institutions to avoid long routes of transport in case of an incident.

With the 2004 and 2012 revisions of the federal law for the protection of the population and the civil protection, construction of PCP-shelters was notably restricted. Today, only the state archives (charged with recording governance in the cantons) receive subsidies by the Federation for the construction of new shelters as well as for the acquisition of storage equipment. The special position of the state archives with regard to federal financial support is due to their classification as of national importance in the Swiss PCP-Inventory. Their distinctive position in Switzerland’s cultural landscape can be illustrated with two examples: firstly, state archives often take over public records in the event of municipality mergers. Secondly, the records they hold are considerably older than the records of the Swiss Federal Archives, which only cover national history starting with the early nineteenth century.


Thanks to far-sighted long-term planning, Switzerland today possesses decentralized protected storerooms for about 100,000 m3 movable cultural property. Thus, the country is able to provide protection to an impressive quantity of important archival (public records, historical maps, photographic material etc.) and library collections.

Moreover, Switzerland has also been able to organise a shelter for storing cultural property from foreign countries involved in armed conflict. Yet, until today no official requests for making use of this facility have been deposited with the federal authorities. Individual cultural institutions, however, have been contacted in this respect, and the Afghanistan Institute [2] in the canton of Baselland is a brilliant example for a successful international cooperation in the PCP-domain.

 

4. Location of Shelters, Consultation of Hazard Maps

Natural hazards pose a constant threat not only to immovable but also to movable cultural property. Therefore, one needs to consult the (current!) hazard maps when choosing the location of a PCP-shelter. Moreover, cultural institutions have to ask themselves how they can establish an emergency organisation and train their staff accordingly apart from fulfilling their regular work of looking after and preserving the collections in their care.

 

5. Formation, Further Education

The PCP-staff is recruited from the ranks of the Civil Protection forces and takes care of cultural property on a regional or local level. The “PCP-specialists” are trained in (usually) weekly courses in the cantons. The PCP-cadre receive an additional education from experts of the federal PCP-section [Fig. 8]. These courses last a week and contain the following key aspects:

- Legal bases;

- Documentation of movable and immovable objects;

- Cooperation with partner organisations (most notably the fire brigade) in the event of an incident.

 

6. Partners (Fire Brigade, Police, Army)

When having to deal with an incident (fire, flood etc.), cooperation of the PCP-staff with partner organisations (fire brigade, police) is the challenge. For this reason, the Federation together with the umbrella organisation of the Swiss fire brigade has elaborated a system for how to organise emergency measures for cultural institutions. This system sets up minimal standards yet is flexible in its mode of application. In advanced courses, PCP-staff learn to cooperate with the emergency forces in practical exercises [Fig. 9], in which the handling of water-damaged archive material is a regular feature.

The key to successful emergency work are the cultural institutions themselves. Without their know-how regarding the relevance of the collections in their care and of the institution’s facilities, any emergency plan must necessarily fail. However, the institutions cannot do all the planning by themselves. Thus, a vital preventative measure is the exchange of information among all the parties involved in the event of an incident. Only by adhering to these principles can the persons responsible for an institution’s collections guarantee appropriate planning and training. In any event, every cultural institution is obliged to deal with the subject of emergency planning, even though resources might be scarce.

 

7. Information and Publications

All relevant PCP-information is accessible on the website of the Swiss PCP-section. Besides the above-mentioned PCP-Inventory, the journal «Forum» (that can be subscribed to for free), the Guidelines-series and the PCP-leaflets are important sources of information [3].

 

[Fig. 1] The Swiss PCP-Inventory ( Federal Office for Civil Protection).

[Fig. 2] The Swiss PCP-Inventory ( Federal Office for Civil Protection).

[Fig. 3] Example of an Evaluation Matrix ( Federal Office for Civil Protection).

[Fig. 4] The Swiss PCP-Inventory as Geographic Information System (GIS) ( Federal Office for Civil Protection).

[Fig. 5] Archiving Microfilms in the Federal Microfilm Archives ( Federal Office for Civil Protection).

[Fig. 6] The Federal Microfilm Archive ( Federal Office for Civil Protection).

[Fig. 7] PCP-Shelter ( Federal Office for Civil Protection).

[Fig. 8] Participants in a Federal PCP-Course visit an Archive ( Federal Office for Civil Protection).

[Fig. 9] Exercise Cooperation between PCP-Staff and Fire Brigade ( Federal Office for Civil Protection).

NOTE
[1]
The major steps and the results of the revision of the PCP-Inventory are described in the PCP-journal «Forum», 13, 2008, <www.kulturgueterschutz.ch> PCP Publications PCP Forum.

[2] <www.afghanistan-institut.ch>.

[3] <www.kulturgueterschutz.ch>. The Guidelines primarily address small- and medium-sized cultural institutions and are available in German and French.