View from the Hermitage. Even the legislation
should be with emotion
The 15th meeting of the International Advisory Board of the State Hermitage has been held recently.
The Council was created on the initiative of UNESCO. Initially the project included a number of activities that allowed the Museum to get to know how western colleagues were solving problems connected with the market. The project is finished, and, according to UNESCO, it became one of the most successful projects in Russia. The activities conducted within the framework of this project draw attention of the Russian Government, the World Bank and MacKenzie Company to the Hermitage. In fact, what happened was that the Museum has assimilated the experience of those forms of activity that it has never had before. A very important role in this was played by the International Advisory Board.
Usually when international organisations support some type of activity, they create a supervisory board. In our case together with the colleagues sent by UNESCO we ourselves chose museum workers who would become advisers of the Hermitage, and not advisers of UNESCO at the Hermitage. Now I will explain what the difference is.
When similar councils are created, usually what happens is that foreign
principles and ideas are being imposed on. This was the situation in our
country for the past
The council was helping us to reconsider the Western experience, but
did not demand from us taking
The Hermitage learnt how to live under market conditions, combining government and private sponsorship. Now our colleagues from the Former Soviet Union countries come to us to adopt our experience.
This year we have discussed many global issues: what will be in the East Wing of the General Staff building, how the Museum will live in the 21st century, we have also discussed the project that we are doing together with Rem Koolhaas - Hermitage 2014.
I will not talk about all the details. I will give an example. The Hermitage is a unique museum. This is a monument of the Russian statehood and history. History lives in its walls, this can not be found in any other museums over the world. History left even the walls of the Louvre long time ago. However, we do not show our history in exhibitions well enough. For instance, everyone knows that Catherine lived in the Winter Palace. But how can we narrate this? The Hermitage is not like Tsarskoye Selo or Peterhof where one can see how the emperors lived. The Hermitage is a big artistic museum. We discussed with the members of the Advisory Board how to show the history here, and we came up with ideas during discussions.
We were discussing whether it was worth displaying oriental cultures of the 19th century in the General Staff building. Being an orientalist, I am all for it, but not all the colleagues share my point of view. The representative of the British Museum was surprised: how can not the Orient be displayed? He said: in the Winter Palace your emperors lived, and in the General Staff building the policy of the Russian Empire was forged. This policy was aimed at the East to oppose us, the English.
Immediately the entire scheme becomes clear: we have the imperial Winter Palace, we have the New Hermitage - an artistic museum, and we have the General Staff building where there was the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Finance where Gorchakov and Witte worked. And next to them there is Palace Square, the 1812 War Memorial. All these should be shown to visitors as a whole without turning the Hermitage into a domestic or history museum. During the discussions with our colleagues it becomes clear how to achieve this.
A separate working session was dedicated to the Hermitage centres. Our Dutch and Italian colleagues spoke at this meeting. Together with the members of the Advisory Board we spent one day in Vyborg where the exhibition Catherine the Great is being prepared to open the Hermitage centre.
Vyborg is the city that preserved its historic core. It can be an example of interpretation of the national history and culture, we should only think over how to do it. We visited several local museums, discussed what role could be played by the Hermitage centre. Nowadays many people take a great interest in Swedish and Finnish history, but they forget some of the Russian history. The historical context of the life of Vyborg is that it stood between Novgorod Rus and Sweden. When talking to foreigners, we can see information gaps. It should be explained to them that this was the territory where the Russians fought against the Swedes, and that a big imperial war took place here.
Our talks and meetings with the members of the Hermitage Advisory Board are important for the task that we are now setting to solve. On September 18th in Novgorod, that celebrates its 1150 years anniversary, the joint meeting of the Presidium of the State Council and the Council of Culture and Art under the President of the Russian Federation will be held. A serious discussion is being prepared at the state level; it will be discussed that the upbringing of people should be built on the emotional base, on the respect to the cultural heritage monuments.
Russia is a country of boundless spaces. You can understand this especially
when living not in Moscow or St Petersburg, but somewhere in Siberia or the Far
East. Politics and economy may exist anywhere at any time. But there
are things that stay invariable. The framework of Russia is in its
museums and churches, its
We often worry that the upbringing nowadays is no good. It is important
to foster the feeling of respect to the national history in people, especially
in young generation. This feeling will make possible the acceptance of all
even negative parts of our national history. If once we did something
wrong, it does not mean that we should make a show of our feelings and beat
the chest. We did a bad thing when we signed The
The feeling of respect to the national history should not be turned into conviction that we are the best. In different periods we could be good or bad, but we should speak boldly of our history and evaluate it objectively. Then we will not have to repent continuously or assure that we are the best.
Veliky Novgorod is an absolutely fantastic city from the point of view
of education and sense of its own history. This is just here where the
Novgorod is a place of amazing Russian churches and astonishing literacy that is a result of openness to the world. As soon as the archeologists began excavating Novgorod, they started to find birch bark letters. There are no other excavation sites in the world where so many proofs of intersection between the East and the West are found. This is what brings up and educates people. Of course, nowadays even in Novgorod some people aim to put concrete slabs on top of the excavation sites. However, this causes rejection and protest among people; that also educates them. Even nature around Novgorod, Pskov, Pushkinskiye Gory and Yasnaya Polyana is necessary to make people feel normal and feel human. When Vaganova was asked why she would not move her school to Moscow, she answered that it was because her girls passed great architectural monuments on their way to school. This principle works nowadays as well.
People are educated by the historical and cultural surroundings. If they understand that one must not destroy an ancient building, because it is ancient, that one must not foul excavation sites, that archeological monuments are sacred things and not things that can be sold, then we will preserve and gradually restore the feeling of national dignity.
It should be like this in every historical city. How can this be done? - By endlessly explaining even obvious things. If people do not understand that a skyscraper can not be placed in the centre of the city, it should be explained to them again and again. Eventually they will understand that, though may be not everyone. If we unite our efforts, many things can be stopped and proper order can be introduced. Human energy is strong, it accumulates and multiplies.
I do hope that it will be possible to introduce special strict rules
for monuments; the rules that will be followed. We struggle for the regulations
for Palace Square. Veliky Novgorod, Pskov,
Museum-reserves are a special case. They combine in themselves nature,
history and architecture. But they are the most vulnerable, and, as it turned
out, they are easily accessible; their borders are not protected
by any laws. Even the most determined directors of
The 1150 years anniversary of Novgorod gives hope. I am a member of the celebration preparation committee. There are talks on the roads, an aerodrome and on monument preservation. It was in Novgorod where for the first time the word "Russia" was uttered. The Monument to the Millennium of Russia together with the St Sophia Cathedral is a symbol of statehood. This is an example for educating people. On September 18th in Novgorod we will return to the discussion of how to preserve historical cities and territories, of the fact that there should be parameters that must be observed. In a place where everything is born out of ensemble, the regulations should be even stricter.
There is a certain economy in preservation of historical monuments, and a normal one. This is an educational tourism that gives people pleasure and can bring money. For our country it is vitally important. We have everything necessary, and we will survive the crisis. What is really scaring is to loose the sense of national dignity once and for all. Historical cities of Russia are the best medicine. People sacrificed their lives for Novgorod, Pskov, Moscow, Leningrad and Volgograd.
Outside observers watch closely whether we have national dignity. If we have it, no one will dare to lay their hands on us. If we loose it, everyone will try to bit off a piece.