View from the Hermitage. Strategy of Defense
The session of the Presidium of the Union of Russian Museums took place in Ivanovo last month. As usual acute problems were under discussion.
We discussed the whole series of laws which, from our point of view, do not consider interests of culture. Among them there was a draft law on creation of budgetary and autonomous institutions which allows liquidation of culture institutions and does not protect the museum fund. Among the same range is the law on transfer of assets of a religious nature to the religious organizations.
An interesting situation happened in relation to it. There is standard legislation to transfer movable and immovable assets into uncompensated use and even into ownership. But when the property is transferred it takes a long time to be documented and they decided to adopt the law, simplifying the procedure. It seemed that nobody had any contradictions against it. We were told not to worry as it did not concern the museums. But in the variant we have got it - it concerns the museums to the most. The draft law says about transfer of any monuments of a religious nature to the church in almost three-day time. Such formulation caused our great concern.
We have written a number of letters to the government in which we insist on the Union of Russian Museums to take part in preparation of laws, concerning the museum funds of the Russian Federation. We were replied that representatives of museums would participate in working groups on the issues of cultural heritage of the committee on religious associations. I hope we would have an opportunity to participate in the process of amending of other laws as well.
It has been said several times that we have laws hostile to culture. It is worth to remember notorious law No 94 on tenders. Just a simple example: this winter the Hermitage faced problems with snow removal. Usually we copeâ with it, but last year the tender was won not by the company which always removed snow at us but the one asked the minimum price for work. Snow fell and it appeared that the winning company had few workers and even those whom they had could not and were not skilful enough to remove snow from the roof. In the result as a matter of urgency we had to employ climbers and to pay high money as the snow was to be removed at once. At present we sue upon the company which has won the tender.
Primarily, we insist on the opportunity to take part in development of laws, related to the museum fund. We have got s protection strategy. We transmitted to the government materials, related to the results of museum inspection. It has shown that the museum fund is preserved better that other parts of the national patrimony. There are some little losses which have some old historical causes.
In the letter to the government we have written that the permanent system of museum monitoring is necessary. Probably, the committee for the fund inspection is worth keeping, so that it meets on the annual basis and discusses our problems. As we have many.
Generally, inspection of the museum fund is a unique thing. There has been nothing like that in any country. In this respect we are the first. Now it is possible to make computational recording of storage on the basis of actual facts without rewriting piles of unchecked papers and old books.
Everything that is our Union busy with is related to preservation of the museum fund of the Russian Federation. We gathered in Ivanovo because it has wonderful museums. Their history is illustrative for our country.
It is amazing, but in the midst of perestroika and financial disasters of the 1990s the Museum of the Tsvetayevs Family was established in Ivanovo. Grandfather of Marina – the priest lived and her father grew up there. The family of intellectuals, living in province, being able to read in several languages. Their house was situated near the church and it has remained.
Museum workers managed to raise money to buy the house out, resettle and renovate it; they gathered things from relatives of the Tsvetayevs living in Moscow. They succeeded to create the museum amazing by its aura. That is what specialists in our time manage to do.
The second museum in Ivanovo bears the name of Dmitry Sergeyevich Burylin. He was a local manufacturer, the person keen on collecting. He went to expeditions, collected absolutely different things, brought collections from Central Asia, and bought Chinese things, Muslim, Russian, Western art. He wrote books and built the museum which he connected with the underpass with his house. The homestead of Burylin remained. We asked Governor to give it all to the museum. In the result we would have a complex like the Hermitage in Palace Square.
This museum has the fate similar to that of the Hermitage. After revolution it was “cannibalized” items were given to other museums. In the 1920s provincial collections were robbed the same way as those of capital cities. It is a plebeian instinct – to divide everything on equity basis. After the war some things were transferred to Kherson. A part of Burylin’s collection – Masonic books and signs are in the Hermitage. They were taken to be sold abroad but on the way they were kept.
Two Ivanovo’s museums – two fates. It is possible to say that the first one was created out of nothing. The second one was “cannibalized” but it has revived and being reestablished. A very interesting part of it is the Museum of Cotton. It has samples of cotton that is not manufactured any more, ancient machines, permanent exhibition of Slava Zaytsev. It is a live, modern museum, outgrown from the private collection. There is an active life around it.
As it is known, the first Council of Working Deputies was established in Ivanovo. It has the museum of the first Council. It is clear what it was like in the Soviet time, then it was closed and at the next Governor it was opened again. It is a serious problem how former political museums look for new ways of development and find them.
Apart from everything else such museums reflect the way of life of the epoch. A large room where the session of the Council took place – an official room with cabinets remained in Ivanovo. Now children come there to play democracy: they hold elections, make up groups, fractions... when you look at children in this museum you remember that Councils are an alternative form of democracy, and it is not worse than our elections.
The museum is well-visited. It has a reconstruction of the house of the worker and the house of the manufacturer – samples of pre-revolutionary way of life. One place combines the history of the country and fate of national museums. Museums are temples of history and culture. They have a special aura and it must be preserved.
At the moment there is an increasing tendency of museums’ public dishonoring. Sometimes it is said that they store stolen things and do not know what they store. I have explained several times, that such statements have financial interest against them. But as we can see that there is parallel tendency of negligence towards the science. Everything starts with the Academy of Sciences. In which respect the expression “worm-eaten” like a museum is applied nowadays. At the same time it is forgotten that it was exactly the academy which saved the Russian science. In the terrible time when one great scientist ran the academy and the other, his brother, was dying in prison, the intellectuals found the mechanism, allowing the science to go on developing, making the state to spend money no only on the nuclear bomb. There is nothing to say but the academy was the most democratic institution in the USSR. It was the only place where academicians were able to vote against and to refuse to accept the people they did not want into their rows. Conscious intellectual opposition – it still exists.
We are assured that instead of the Academy of Sciences some new structures will be established. But on the ground of negligence in the crowd of common people there is misunderstanding what the science is in general and how it differs from pseudoscience. And then we get amazed where so many “magicians” come from. But if to compare it with negligence towards culture which was replaced by show-business, there is nothing strange in the fact that ideas of pseudoscience start getting control over minds.
The same situation happened in the 1920s. People, who came to power, treated science and culture with indignity. Not yet forgotten the time when genetics and cybernetics were destroyed. Sales from museums resulted from the belief that junk stuff was stored in museums and in the West there were fools ready to buy it.
Negligence of science and culture is coming again and it causes concern.