Declaration of the Presidium of the Union of
After discussing at its extraordinary session the situation which has developed following the theft of 221 exhibits at the State Hermitage, the Presidium considers it impermissible to use the tragic incident as reason to discredit the entire museum community, since this would pose a genuine threat to the future of our national cultural heritage.
The Presidium believes that the country's museum, library and archival collections are the one sector of state property that must not be divided up among the so-called ‘business elites.'
The Presidium believes that participation of the mass media is necessary if there is going to be broad public support for museums in our country.
The Presidium thinks the right of each individual to have access to the treasures of our cultural heritage as set out in the Constitution of the Russian Federation should be assured and implemented not only by actions of the museum staff but also by the state and society as a whole.
For these reasons, the Presidium of the Union of Russian Museums has adopted the following declaration:
The Union of Russian Museums recognizes that work on inventory-keeping and the way storage of museum items and collections in Russian museums has been organized do not fully meet regulatory requirements. There can also be no doubt that the cause of this state of affairs is not just reduced quality of work by museum staff but also the museums' lack of necessary financial means and technical infrastructure.
The Union of Russian Museums considers that first priority must be given to raising the efficiency of work by curators and those involved in inventory-taking, creating the conditions for professionalizing this form of museum activity, and systematically educating museum staff in the spirit of the Code of Museum Ethics of the International Council of Museums (ICOM).
The Union of Russian Museums issues its decisive protest against wholesale accusations alleging that all museum workers in Russia are incompetent, negligent or, even worse, involved in theft and forgery of museum property.
The Union of Russian Museums considers it utterly unacceptable:
To transfer control over the integrity and state of preservation of the country's museum collections to law-enforcement agencies;
For anyone, whether agencies of the executive branch of government, the press, the domestic lobby of antiques dealers, business associations, to use the situation that has developed around the State Hermitage to lobby the President, the Parliament and the Government for the privatization of museums in some overt or hidden form through transfers to autonomous institutions, self-regulating organizations, transfer on the basis of concession or otherwise.
Without relieving the museum community and the management of Russian museums of responsibility for the current negative phenomena in museum affairs, the Union of Russian museums directs everyone's attention to the fact that safeguarding the country's heritage is the constitutional obligation both of every citizen and of the state. The witch hunt against the country's museums that has now been unleashed can only have one goal: to sweep away the last obstacles on the path to privatizing the country's cultural heritage and dividing up the national legacy.
Although only slightly more than 63,000 people work in all the museums of Russia taken together and they safeguard around 79.5 million objects, we are ready to do everything we can to oppose such intentions. We believe that Russia's citizens will support us in this matter.
15 August 2006