A Strict Country before and after Oil
Any remarkable event and phenomenon of the cultural life provides reasons for thoughts and lessons. A good example is an exhibition of archeological monuments of Saudi Arabia in the Hermitage. It is absolutely new archeological finds and discoveries of the country which has set about studying of its antiquity, notably, the antiquity pre-Islamic.
I would like to remind that Saudi Arabia is a tough country with strict morals which was rather closed until recently. It is a birthplace of Islam where the main Islamic relics are placed. At the exhibition there is a blanket from Caaba and one of the gates of Caaba. The organizers asked to cover with glass so that people do not kiss them. For the Moslems they are relics. Caaba is a sacred construction in Mecca, the center of pilgrimage. There to the heaven-sent black stone pilgrims come.
Saudi Arabia started to study its antiquity comparatively not long ago.
The exhibition tells on the one hand about pre-Islamic past of the country
and on the other
Saudi Arabian archeologists work in cooperation with international archeological expeditions. It is also a specific event for the country which does not like to let foreigners in. Specialists from different countries discover ancient monuments of the nations which are known from Koran. I read lectures to the students and I invited a term "Koranic archeology". There is Biblical archeology and there are ancient monuments of the nations, mentioned in Koran, who are included in the Koranic scheme of history. Conventionally speaking, they are the nations which were punished for the fact that they did not believe in Allah.
Now in Saudi Arabia antiquities are discovered, studied and shown proudly. Also in order to acknowledge to what extent Arabia is an embodiment of some historic unity. It does not mean that one and the same people live there. This peninsula has its own fortune. It is related to routes along which first people went then merchants and then pilgrims. Acknowledgment of this is the whole historic philosophy.
Administration for Antiquity and Tourism of Saudi Arabia has been established recently. It conducts excavations and engaged in monuments preservation. For many times I have been showed objects found by someone and being kept in the museum now. The system of the monuments preservation is developed. It should be mentioned that it is important for the country where a great construction is being in process. The young population there is growing rapidly and about ten of so called economic cities, filled with technical innovations are being built.
Thus the issue of openness to the word has been arisen. A desire appeared to tell about the civilization they are just discovering and getting acquainted with. To some extent it is propaganda but it gives an opportunity to see some new things, interesting for us.
At the exhibition there is a section about excavations in Taima. We knew
from some sources which we did not believe much that Babylonian King Nabonidus
conquered oasis up to the present Medina in order to wrest control over
the trade route. He was the last King of Babylon who was put down by the
Persians, a famous Biblical figure. The excavations revealed steles with
The story also tells about pre-Islamic Arabian state Nabatene. The Nabatean monuments are tombs cavated in the rocks. The state existed and died. The trade caravans passed by, people saw destroyed settlements and this caused philosophic musings. Poets wrote verses, prophets concluded: they did not listen to Allah... By the way, all philosophy in Koran is historic, and it is based on reflections about destroyed monuments of ancient civilizations.
Another extraordinary place is an oasis
And today Saudi Arabia supplies some things and orders some other things. But now it is the life of the country in which there is a lot of oil. The rich country used to the fact that many a man would like to get hold of its money. There are legends that the Saudi Arabians spend terribly much money. Nothing of the kind. They spend carefully but when they need something they do not limit themselves. They have got money. And it is another lesson for us.
The Saudi Arabian understood long ago that one day they would run out of oil. It cannot be depended on. They do not say like we do: one must not confine to the oil curse... They say: “Oil is our blessing but we need to use it correctly”. They have established powerful money funds, saved for the moment when the oil comes to an end. All the time search for the paths how to exist on account of other capabilities.
I remember that at one of the conferences in Saudi Arabia the Minister of Oil gave a speech and told that he hurried to open an enterprise for solar batteries production. The Saudi Arabians are advanced specialists in innovative technologies of power generation. When they run out of oil they will have solar batteries enough to supply the whole world. It is obvious that in the Arabian Peninsula they have abundant sun. Having a powerful oil refining industry they have also developed agriculture so that in the desert they provide themselves not only with dates but corn as well.
In the history of Arabia there have always been goods exclusive for trading. Now it is oil. Before that in high antiquity it was fragrances: frankincense and myrrh. Absolutely essential for medicines, church services and cosmetics, they went along the trade routes all over the world. Taxes were taken everywhere I the result the price rose up awfully. It was time when coffee was produced only in Arabia. The whole towns were prosperous thanks to this. Now they are in ruins, covered with earth. Coffee began to be produced in different places and the price fell down.
History teaches that any prosperity is temporal. It is necessary to think what to do next. Thus centers of investments into something that must give an opportunity to live wealthy in the future are appearing. In the country there is powerful financial sector and the Saudi Arabians invest into culture a lot. The advisory council is established, which develops the strategy how to make the culture a part of the modern cities’ life. Specialists discuss how to initiate the population into culture and the contemporary art. The contemporary art for the most part is abstract. Love of the Moslems to the absence of images combines with it rather well. This year the Saudi Arabian pavilion opens in Biennale of the contemporary art in Venice for the first time. It is a great step for the country, taking into consideration that in the Arab world artistic traditions are absolutely different.
At this point it is interesting to compare them with us. The
The Saudi Arabians are proud people but they know that it is necessary to learn. They like asking advice and attract consultants but they do not crawl in front of foreign experience. They study it carefully and take decisions on their own. A lot of people come to them. Migrants, rushing for earning into the rich country, live in accordance to strict local laws. In contrast to us he Saudi Arabians long ago determined the borders of fraternization and division.
An amazing archeological exhibition speaks about very different things, including the experience of the present-day Saudi Arabia. At the end it unobtrusively speaks about the present Saudi Arabian royal dynasty. There is nothing about it in the catalogue but the organizers have brought King’s possessions which are like relics for them. Such delicate attitude shows contemporary atmosphere in the country.
Certainly not everyone in Saudi Arabia is pleased with changes; there is a strong opposition to them. Fears are outspoken whether we will get the situation happening in Egypt, Syria, Libya and Tunisia in case we open to the world too much. That is all Western influence. Serious inner overestimations and reflections over the issue how to make so that openness does not bring harm are taking place.
I would repeat once again that Saudi Arabia is a tough country and significant
processes deserving attention are going in it. The Exhibition in the Hermitage
is expression of the policy of openness. To our city the exhibition was
accompanied by a large delegation of Saudi Arabian businessmen headed
by His Royal Highness Amir Sultan ibn Salman ibn Abdulaziz Al Saud, Head
of the Committee for Tourism and Antiquities, first