Cultural Dialogue in the Internet
Baden Baden recently hosted a meeting of the organizing committee of the latest Petersburg Dialogue, which is held on an annual basis and alternates between Russia and Germany. We talked about how culture makes it easier to find solutions to many difficult political problems.
The discussion was about the upcoming exhibit in Moscow: "Russians and Germans, together for a millennium". It is meant to cover the entire history of Russian-German relations; not only the military conflicts, but also mutual influences and cultural exchange. Plans are in place for books about various episodes in Russian-German relations, to be released at the same time as the exhibit. This is an interesting area for cooperation. It is an opportunity to cooperate without forgetting our confrontations. The question of a joint textbook has also been raised. Itís true that there is such a plan, but nothing has come of it so far. It is possible to make an exhibit balanced. A textbook written by one side will never be balanced. I think that there will be an interesting dialogue, how we see each other, and an opportunity to evaluate our history together.
The second exhibit is called The Bronze Age. It is about a time when Europe was, relatively speaking, unified. The exhibit is meant to bring together Russian collections and German collections transported from Germany. This is our recipe for how to handle captured art. Why does the debate about its fate still continue? It is perceived as property, and that is not important when art is involved. It must be shown, and not made into a subject of confrontation. The job of culture is to assimilate art scientifically, to use it to educate and cultivate people.
One aspect of the upcoming Petersburg Dialogue is research on frescoes from Central Asia that are stored in our museum, which originated in Russian and German museums. We intend to show the entire set. At the same time, research about how these pieces were acquired is ongoing. Russian scientists discovered frescoes in the monasteries of Central Asia at the beginning of the last century, and an international competition over who could take the most out of there began at once. The Japanese, the English, the Germans, the Russians, the French – everyone assembled collections. The usual issue in such cases emerges: the Chinese say that it all belongs to them, since it was found in their territory. At first glance, this seems just; it isnít good to take frescos down from monastery walls.
However, this story is instructive, since waves of civil war took place in those regions of Central Asia where these artifacts originated. Much was lost. The frescoes might have disappeared, like the famous Buddha statues of Afghanistan disappeared. They were destroyed by the Taliban, like the corridors decorated with frescoes that were in rocks. Of course, it is bad to remove something from someone elseís territory, but there are more than a few examples of when cultural heritage was saved in this way. We must keep that in mind when considering what to do in the future to make sure that valuables are not destroyed, not removed, and are accessible to people.
At the same time, free access to works of art is sometimes a contentious question. There are laws and copyrights. We at the Hermitage have the right to talk about that, since we are in two situations at the same time. On the one hand, according to Russian law, a museum owns the rights to reproduce exhibition pieces and buildings. If someone uses the Hermitageís name or image without knowing the rules, we write them a letter and demand that they change the picture or receive permission to publish it. There are civilized organizations that fulfil these requirements, and there are those that donít respond to our protests. This is an excellent criterion for determining where or not a particular businessman has any integrity.
On the other hand, when it comes to reproducing the paintings in our catalogue of 20th century artists, for 70 years we have to ask permission from their third generation heirs and pay them money. Art comes from God; it is made for people and must be the property of society as a whole. It isnít that itís hard to pay, but it involves endless writing back and forth, which slows down the work on the film, book or exhibit. Other problems emerge as well.
In May, we will hold a symposium on bronze castings made by known artists. We have been known to disturb the peace in this area. The sculptor died, the moulds of his works survived and are used to cast new pieces. Where do the authorís rights and the moral rights of his descendants and property rights end? In the West, specialists are often afraid to address issues that are involved with legal proceedings. This has become a misfortune of the art market. We want to discuss the problem from a legal point of view. This is not an academic question. Museums arenít rich, but they enter the art market from time to time. I remember the time the Hermitage bought a Maillol sculpture. We were corresponding about this question with Dina Vierny, the owner of the rights and the Maillol Foundation. We wrote that we have the genuine sculpture and all others are not genuine. She wrote that we are mistaken, that there are other castings that are also genuine. There are many nuances, and it is necessary to make sense of them.
At the Petersburg Dialogue, we are preparing to discuss other difficult problems of two countries and two worlds.
While describing the situation in their country, our German colleagues mentioned the tremendous success of the Pirate Party. This is one of the parties that were born on the Internet. The basis of their ideology is free flow of information, a struggle against copyrights, against any sort of prohibitions. Now they have gone further; they are emphasizing free interaction, the development of common solutions, voting on the Internet. At first, this activity seemed amusing. Now the Pirate Party is receiving more and more votes in Germany, including Berlin. It is already represented in some parliaments and is pushing out the Greens.
Many people think that the Internet is a simple thing – all you have to do is whistle and people start assembling in the public squares. In reality, everything is much more complicated.
The "cheerful" events in Bolotnaya square in Moscow were paralleled by "cheerful" unrest in Stuttgart; the Petersburg Dialogue is meant to compare them. Throughout the world, class conflict is, as they used to say, getting sharper. The same thing can be observed in the United States. We are accustomed to think that the Democrats and the Republicans are basically the same thing. Thatís what they taught us. But now the "sharpening" between them is such that some newspapers and television channels in the United States talk about Obama in ways that they didnít permit themselves to talk about an American president for many years; sharply, on the verge of the truly unacceptable. On the other hand, it true that it is not as sharp as the tone people in Russia use when talking about the authorities. This is the result of declining culture in society. Culture implies that people must act graciously when it comes to the differences between them, including differences in political views.
We actively discussed the tale of the girls who created such a scandal in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. There are two aspects of that story that few have noticed. The important thing was not the performance in the temple, but the earlier one in Red Square. We remember what happened there in 1968. People came into the square to protest the events in Czechoslovakia. It was one of the purest moments in the history of the dissident movement in Russia. People obeyed their consciences and came to the square knowing that they would be arrested. The difference between that moment and todayís show is obvious.
Everyone saw the girlsí covered faces. For our point of view, it is a masquerade show. In fact, it is reminiscent of the burka, the traditional Muslim covering for womenís faces. A novel by one American pseudo-Muslim enjoys a great deal of popularity in the West. He wrote a book about hippies and punks who turned to Islam. One character is a girl terrorist, who makes trouble and kills people, but wears a burka. So the practice of covering oneís face has Muslim allusions, which make it less cowardly.
It is useful to see the whole landscape, it makes it easier to understand that we are not the only people in the world, nor are we the most unusual. Culture is capable of removing this "sharpening" and correcting imperfections when it becomes a tool for education and learning.
An exhibit entitled Only Writings Sound, dedicated to Nikolay Petrovich Likhachev, recently opened at the Hermitage. He was a great collector and scientist. He collected artifacts of writing, and created a museum that was broken up into various collections. We want to show people the unity and diversity of cultures connected by writing.
This exhibit should be of particular interest in the Internet age. Writing is the great achievement of mankind. The alphabet was invented only once. We are showing writing from before the invention of printing, and the result of a great cultural revolution: the printed book. Thanks to printed books, it became easier to convey information. The same thing is happening now with the Internet. It is a way of conveying information while also imposing oneís point of view, oneís taste. The Internetís taste and language are visible to everyone. What is the appropriate level of accessibility? People want everything to be accessible on the Internet. They are right. The Internet is either a tool or a kingdom that will soon enfetter everyone.
We want to develop peopleís tastes by breaking into the Internet sphere – museum sites, Facebook, applications. Others want to create and shape the attitude. We will have to wait and see how all of this ends.