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Elena Franchi

The crushing experience of the Second World War had shown that modern wars weren’t only directed against military targets, but they also greatly impacted populated areas and cultural heritage. It is “total war”, that doesn’t discriminate between soldiers and civilians, and devastates all of a country’s assets, employing the most powerful weapons and new strategies, as well as waging economic and psychological warfare.

The 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict recognized that effective protection of cultural heritage in times of conflict requires a number of measures to be adopted in peacetime. The need for such measures, formally recognized by the Convention, had already been identified after the First World War.

The Preamble to The Hague Convention introduces the fundamental principle that damage to cultural property belonging to any people whatsoever means damage to the cultural heritage of all mankind, since each people makes its contribution to the culture of the world.

This concept comes from the past. The French intellectual Quatremère de Quincy, Antonio Canova’s friend, opposed Napoleonic plunder stating that scientific and artistic property belongs to everyone, regardless of which country it is entrusted to.

This principle is the starting point of the present issue of «Predella», prompted by the latest news from Syria and from Mali, but also, for different reasons, from Greece. Many other reasons have given rise to this publication including the understanding that the loss of a country’s cultural heritage means a tremendous damage for its people, and we are all the poorer for it, the pressing need to call attention to these problems and the awareness that only a sensible international commitment can avoid the destruction of centuries of civilization.

The first two articles critically illustrate the current legislation on the topic, stressing its strengths and weaknesses. Marco Brocca analyzes the 1954 Hague Convention, and subsequent legislative guidelines. He reminds us that aggression against cultural heritage is an attempt to annihilate the identity and historical memory of a people, by destroying it not just materially but also morally.

We’re thus introduced to the main topics developed in the following articles: a community’s identification with its cultural heritage and the deliberate destruction of the “enemy’s” symbols. Cultural heritage can be considered an attractive target, including for terrorist attacks, since it strikes the enemy’s identity and has a high media profile.

Massimo Carcione underlines the role of cultural Non-Governmental Organizations and not-for-profit institutions, their positive and negative aspects. He points out that careful preventative measures could also help protect cultural heritage against the risks of natural disasters, and encourage economic development and employment.

Unfortunately, a normal preventative activity is not as attractive to a sponsor as is an important restoration work on greatly damaged artifacts, because the latter is much more likely to enhance the sponsor’s public image.

Carcione takes Switzerland as an example of best practice. That’s why Rino Büchel’s piece can be included in this first group of articles. He describes the most important measures undertaken by Swiss cantons and federal authorities to protect cultural heritage. In his article he provides the Swiss examples of training courses and practical exercises for staff and the provision of documentation, publications and safeguarding plans for cultural heritage. Since the Sixties, Switzerland has been constructing protective storerooms for movable works of art, and can even shelter cultural property from foreign countries involved in armed conflict should they formally apply for such services.

During the Cold War, some countries, such as Switzerland and Holland, built bunkers for cultural heritage in the event of a nuclear war. As the author explains in her article, the political and military tension caused by the prospect of a conflict between the two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, created a climate of fear affecting Italy as well as many other countries. At the beginning of the Fifties, during the Korean war,the Italian Ministry of Public Education urged Superintendencies to set up new shelters for movable works of art, and to plan the detachment of the most important cycles of frescoes in order to safeguard them, as many art historians had already repeatedly recommended.

World War 2 events still have repercussions on the cultural heritage of Kaliningrad Oblast, a former part of northern East Prussia which was assigned to the Soviet Union in 1945. After the Soviet Army had occupied the region, and the German population was forced to flee, Prussian churches and noteworthy historical buildings were abandoned or misused. Using Google Earth, Christof Ringler documents the growing decay of those buildings used as quarries to obtain building material or as agricultural warehouses, and storehouses.

These kinds of events usually happen under similar circumstances, and most frequently affect religious buildings. In the Sixties, in Albania, churches and mosques were destroyed or converted into gyms, stores, stables and dancehalls; in Tibet, after the Chinese occupation, temples, statues, ritual objects, manuscripts and tangke - traditional religious silk-trimmed fabric paintings - were destroyed, while traditional buildings were converted into public housing; and again in the Seventies in Cambodia, under the Khmer Rouge many Angkor monuments were transformed into pigsties, while Buddhist monasteries, statues and objects of worship were destroyed. Finally how could we forget the outrageous destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan, blown up in 2001, before the eyes of the world.

Ideologically fuelled rage leads to the destruction of a community’s religious symbols. As Mahmoud Salem Elsheikh underlines, the increasing importance attributed to holy sites shows the renewed role of religion in identity formation, while the role of politics or ideology is gradually weakening in this respect. The consequences are outlined in Samuel P. Huntington’s theory, The Clash of Civilizations, according to which, in the post Cold War era, cultural and religious identities are the primary source of conflict in the world. Only mutual respect for diversity can avoid this risk, and Mediterranean countries play a major role in this process.

The Palestinian situation - discussed in two of the articles - is a classic example of this. Olimpia Niglio introduces us to the historical and political events of the occupied territories (West Bank and Gaza Strip), underlining Palestine’s role in the history of civilization. The cultural heritage of the region is threatened by the current political situation. Under the circumstances, protecting individual monuments is no longer sufficient. It is, instead, necessary to devise a systematic redevelopment plan able to restore original cultural traditions in their entirety.

Naseer Arafat gives us a concrete example of living in a crisis area, Nablus, whose fascinating history is in sharp contrast with contemporary events. In this case, the most successful recovery projects weren’t limited to the restoration of the city’s heritage buildings; they also had a positive effect in terms of revitalizing the local community.

The chaos in Syria, devastated by the civil war, is described in Rodrigo Martín Galán’s article. He highlights that the lack of reliable cultural heritage information from Syria is particularly tragic because this country plays a central role in the history of civilization. In Syria all the typical problems of a country at war are evident: archaeological sites have been turned into battlefields, or military emplacements, or abandoned to illegal excavations; historical buildings have been damaged or destroyed; museums have been looted; artifacts have been removed to unknown locations without appropriate controls; intangible heritage - represented by cultural traditions - has been lost, with serious consequences for the local community.

This is also the topic explored by Luigi Marino, who tells us about the regrouping of a community in a post war situation. Post-conflict restoration provides a crucial opportunity to rebuild a community’s sense of belonging and self-esteem. Although, on the face of it, rebuilding may appear a neutral process, it can, in fact, turn out to be highly political. Big business interests, the winner’s interests, are at the core of this process, and they determine the adoption of models, materials and building techniques, which are often alien to the local community, causing the gradual loss of traditional knowledge and skills.

When dealing with current conflicts, articles often take a strong stance on these topics, they don’t remain neutral, and this is absolutely understandable. After all, the concept of cultural heritage is not a neutral one either. Heritage is not just a set of cultural objects from the past; it is also the result of a selection process. Every society chooses what is worthy of preservation for future generations, through an ongoing process of conservation of some objects and traditions and the abandonment of others to the dustbin of history.

This is particularly clear in Giorgos Vavouranakis’ article. In this case the definition of “crisis areas” has a wider meaning, including the economic crisis that is having strong repercussions on Greek cultural heritage. Our current image of Greece, immediately identifiable by its antiquities, actually comes from the nineteenth century. In order to absorb Greece into the European sphere of influence its classical past was overemphasized at the expense of its Ottoman and Byzantine past.

This process of selection is pushed to the extreme in wartime, when priority lists for the protection of art works are set. This is also clear in Frederick M. Asher’s article dealing with illegally exported Indian artifacts. India might have to identify those irreplaceable objects that constitute its national heritage, in order to claim their restitution. In the absence of relevant legislation ethical behavior is the only possible alternative.

The last group of articles stresses the importance of educating the population and of training both civilians and military personnel on how to effectively protect cultural heritage.

This is why the Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale (Carabinieri Headquarters for the Protection of Cultural Heritage) are not only deeply engaged in cultural heritage protection, but also endeavor to raise awareness on these issues among the public and the professionals. As Generale di Brigata Mariano Mossaexplains in an interview, one of the Carabinieri TPC’s tasks, while on peacekeeping international missions, is to train the local Police Force and museum professionals to better protect their cultural heritage.

Laurie W. Rush details the attempts to instill into the US Army a sense of respect for the cultural heritage of the countries in which they serve. Many initiatives attempt to encourage American soldiers to engage with local communities. One of these initiatives is the distribution of the archaeology awareness playing cards to military personnel. Each card conveys a specific message, and each suit deals with a particular theme: diamonds for artifacts and treasures, spades for historic sites and archaeological digs, hearts for “winning hearts and minds” and clubs for heritage preservation. The background of the cards of the same suit is a piece of a puzzle, to show that if an artifact is looted or destroyed, important parts of the puzzle - and of history - are lost forever.

The final article summarizes the main topics of this issue, by outlining the work of Fabio Maniscalco. Fabio Maniscalco was a pioneer in the conservation of cultural heritage in crisis areas and devoted his life to this purpose. He lost his life in 2008, just as the scholars’ international community was collecting signatures to support his nomination to the Nobel Peace Prize. Mentioned in articles of authors who knew him, his activity and teachings live again in his wife’s Mariarosaria Ruggiero Maniscalco’s affectionate recollections. The last section of the final article is in Maniscalco’s own words and contains his observations on the activity of an organization he had founded, the Observatory for the Protection of Cultural Heritage in Areas of Crisis. He outlines the main problems faced when protecting cultural heritage in conflict areas. Maniscalco’s life and death are a reminder for all of us that the protection of cultural heritage in wartime always happens on a background of civilian massacres and risks for the local population as well as for the cultural heritage professionals, who often are affected by “war pollution”, with negative consequences for their health.

In conclusion, I would like to thank all the authors who have shared this experience with me and have made it an enriching one both from a professional and from a personal point of view. All articles have given me ideas to consider and some authors, like Luigi Marino and Olimpia Niglio, have also given me valuable suggestions during this work.

I’m deeply grateful to «Predella» directors, Emanuele Pellegrini and Gerardo de Simone, who allowed me complete autonomy in undertaking this project. I also thank our referees and my dear friend Loredana Nardi for her precious assistance.

The Italian word for “heritage” is patrimonio, from the Latin patrimonium, derived from the root pater, father. Patrimonio is the heritage passed down to the children; in the case of cultural heritage, it is not made of money or property, but it is made of culture, values and traditions. Cultural heritage implies a family bond, our belonging to a community.

Some scholars think that in patrimonium the word munus is also present: gift, but also duty. Not everyone agrees with this interpretation, but I would like to think that this etymology is correct. Patrimonium, therefore, as a gift from our fathers.

According to the famous Marcel Mauss’ essay The Gift, published in 1923-1924, relationships between humans arise from reciprocal exchange, and it’s the gift that activates a system of exchange. The gift circulates, carrying the giver’s spirit, and creating strong bonds between individuals.

Cultural heritage passed down to us from our fathers must be preserved and carried into the future. It’s up to each of us not to break this chain.