All power to the museums!
The Russian Council of Museums recently held a meeting in Khabarovsk.
Khabarovsk is a place where different cultures converge. Russian culture was brought there by settlers, strengthened by the Soviet Union and now has strong roots. The cultures of China and Korea and Japan are very close.
However, you canít take exhibitions there. This is not just because it is very far, but because it is too expensive. It is cheaper to fly to New York. What sponsor would be willing to provide enough money to bring a serious exhibition to Khabarovsk? Transport problems need to be resolved somehow. I canít believe that you can get a cheap ticket to Paris but not to Khabarovsk.
There are wonderful museums in Khabarovsky Krai which preserve the memory of Russian culture there.
The most important museum in Khabarovsk is the Khabarovsk Regional Museum after N.I. Grodekov. It is the only museum in Russia which, even in Soviet times, kept the name of the general-governor. In the far east, cultural and museum life was not promoted by Decembrists, like in Irkutsk, nor by wealthy people, like in Tomsk and Omsk, but by military people and geographers. The general-governor Grodekov, who suppressed revolts in China, founded this museum.
Today, when Russian museums are struggling to retain their right to conduct research, our Khabarovsk colleagues already have this right. We have discussed with the minister of defence the fate of military museums which the ministry is finding difficult to maintain. In the Far East this is not a problem. Discussions are being held on including the Far East military district museum in the Grodekov museum.
What is happening in Khabarovsk gives reason for optimism. The significance of museums is understood there and it seems that they are important for the authorities.
We often, and with some justification, say that culture is not considered important in our country. At the same time, there are no other countries where kings and presidents sign orders on celebrating anniversaries of cultural institutions. This is not just about the 250th anniversary of the Hermitage. Anniversary orders were also issued for the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts and the Public Library. This shows a respect for culture.
The organising committee for celebrating the anniversary of the Hermitage, which will take place in 2014, has just met. We showed the commission the reconstruction of the General Staff, restoration projects, including the project for laser cleaning of the Small Throne Room panel and events for the coming years were discussed.
The media have concentrated on the money that the museum will receive,
We are not planning super anniversary exhibitions abroad, songs, dances or concerts. There will probably be a concert on Palace Square or in the courtyard of the Winter Palace. Guests will come, but at their own initiative and expense. This is where we differ from other anniversary holders.
We are asking for money for reconstructing the east wing of the General Staff, for completing construction of the open archive in Staraya Derevnya and the creation of an archaeological archive, a publishing centre and a library.
The creation of an exhibition hall in the old stables and riding hall of the Small Hermitage is also in this list. At the moment they hold the archives, but after their transfer to Staraya Derevnya an exhibition space with its own entrance might appear. Then along the Small Hermitage a passage will open from Palace Square to the Neva embankment. This will create a flow of people to Palace Square, which will increase its city forming role. There will be a passage from the Moika Embankment through the General Staff building to the square. Inside the General Staff will be cafes, restaurants, shops...
The anniversary plans include new buildings in the Reserve Palace on Palace Embankment next to the Hermitage Theatre. This will house an archive and restoration workshops which occupy beautiful Hermitage buildings. Then we will be able to restore the antique vase and carved stone halls and the palace church.
The church will be an exhibition and a holy place. There is a project to restore the iconostasis. The church will house the best Russian and Byzantine icons from our collection. We want to create a memorial place for the Romanov imperial family. The Hermitage has many personal items from the royal family, for example the New Testament, which was inherited. All this will be displayed in the church. There will not be anything too extravagant. A church is a place for praying. We propose to hold a special mass once a year. On the 25 December, the day the enemy was expelled from Russia in 1812. Every year on this day a prayer service and military parade were held in the palace.
The General Staff building, a new exhibition hall, the open archive and restoration projects is the museumís development plan. The organising committee examined it in detail. All we need to do is provide a detailed justification for each point. Only then will we be allocated money.
Of course there will be anniversary exhibitions. We will display items the museum has acquired over the last twenty years, the history of hermitage archaeology and restoration and museum design.
At the organising committee meeting I said that the Hermitage is like an engine for our culture. When we do something, and do it successfully, then it becomes easier for others. Now everybody knows than the Hermitageís open archive is the best. People come from all over the world to see how we have built it all. Our site was an example for many years. Reconstruction of the General Staff building is an example of how it is possible to place new content in old architecture.
Let me repeat myself: we havenít received an anniversary present, but agreement to implement the Hermitage development plan. We are being given what we should have been given long ago. A great deal of work awaits us.
The organising committee also discussed the museumís new charter. This is also important, and not everyone understands its significance. This concerns the Hermitageís special status. All museums are good, there are no big or small ones. However, the Hermitage is a world class museum which is also a memorial of Russian nationhood. Since 1996 when the Hermitage was mentioned in a presidential order, it has a separate line in the state budget, and is under protection of the Head of the Russian Federation. There are no sub-legislative acts or budget increases. This is evidence of the honour which helps the museum work.
Everything in our country is now becoming homogenous, including the charters of cultural institutions. For our 250th anniversary we asked, as a present, that the Hermitage charter is approved by the government of the Russian Federation and not the Ministry of Culture. This does not give the museum any additional freedom, other than confirming its special status. In France, for example, the Louvre has a special position.
One other thing... People have been asking me why, not being a member of United Russia or the Peopleís Front, I decided to stand for election. I have given not just my name but the name of the Hermitage to support the list which, in my opinion, guarantees a certain stability for the immediate future.
The United Russia list has its specifics. It includes people who are
not party members. Whenever we organise a party we somehow end up with
the CPSU. I know this very well from when I was involved in setting up
We live in difficult times. Everywhere we hear, "donít rock the boat". There are many problems and crises on the horizon. I am an orientalist and I watch what is happening in the Middle East. I am asked, "is what is happening there what we have already had or what may happen?" The second idea is very possible. Therefore, I think that we need to support stability.
I donít value the mechanism of elections as a feature of democracy as much as the ability to use the moment when cultural workers are listened to. Our task now is to be listened to.
Culture is outside politics. But when you work in culture, you need to try and use politics. There are completely concrete things, defence of museums from raiders, privatisation... We can see what is happening around conservation museums whose borders are being constantly encroached. Elections give the opportunity to talk louder about the protection of cultural rights, in particular St. Petersburgís urban environment. Russian intelligentsia has great experience in using political situations for cultural interests.
Krasnoyarsk museums have issued a t-shirt with the inscription "All power to the museums". There is a poster in Khabarovsk with the same slogan.