Inetrnational Centre of the Roerichs

International Non-Governmental Organization | Special consultative status with UN ECOSOC
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PAGES  The Roerich Pact|Relevance of the Roerich Pact in the modern world: 1234Notes|75 years of the Roerich Pact

“We are grieving over the loss of Louvain’s library,” Nicholas Roerich wrote with bitterness in 1930, “and the irreplaceable beauty of the cathedrals of Reims and Ieper. We remember the multitude of treasures of private collections that were lost at the time of the world’s troubles, but we do not want to inscribe words of hostility. Let us just say ‘Destroyed by human misapprehension and restored by human hope.’ But still, fatal mistakes in this form or another can be repeated, and new multitudes of monuments to human deeds can be destroyed again.”[12, p.103] His anticipation came true. World War II leveled to the ground very precious monuments of Culture, destroyed a great number of priceless pieces of art, devastated the ancient carriers of spiritual energetics. And N. Roerich turned out to have be right in his anticipation, and not only in his anticipation, but in his global action which he undertook a few years before the beginning of World War II. This was the creation of Roerich’s Pact, famous throughout the entire world, aimed at the protection of cultural values in periods of military operations and in times of peace. Nicholas Roerich believed that the Pact imposed obligations not only on the nations that signed it, but on society as a whole. Roerich’s Pact had a broad character and counted to a certain extent on a mass movement for the protection of Culture. “We shall not be tired to keep saying,” he wrote, “that, beside government recognition, the active participation of the public is needed. Cultural values decorate and elevate all of life in all its manifestations. And that is why active concern for them must be shown by everyone.”[13, p.142] Roerich asserted that “a public element should lie at the basis of a common cause.”[14, p.131] It is hard to overestimate the importance of this idea. Only society as a whole can do something real for culture, for it is society, and not the powers that be, that is its carrier, it is society, and not state officials, that can truly organize the protection of culture. Culture itself, being a space of free creation, has public and traditional roots. Culture is created by society and for society.

“Beside governmental resolutions,” N. Roerich wrote regarding the Pact, “it is public opinion that is the first protector of the national treasures that have world significance.”[15, p.163]

He paid special attention to this kind of activity among the Russian people possessing rich cultural heritage. “The Russian people,” the artist pointed out, “as an heir of a glorious future, must become special protectors of Culture.”16 What did the words “special protectors of Culture” mean? It is known that in the thirties, a destructive process under the name of “cultural revolution” was underway in the USSR. At that terrible time, thousands and thousands of monuments of culture were destroyed senselessly and heartlessly by the authorities’ instruction. Roerich made a protest against it.

Destruction of Jesus the Savior Cathedral in Moscow

The destruction of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow aroused a most negative reaction in him, which he could not keep to himself. “The powers that be! Say firmly and resolutely that such devastations are inadmissible. […] The powers that be! Say louder and louder that the destruction of cultural treasures is inadmissible and will forever place the destroyer on a list of shame.”[17, p.141]. But authorities in his Motherland kept silent and did not pay attention to either his appeals, nor to the International Pact for the protection of cultural values, which they refused to sign. Helena Roerich, outstanding philosopher and public figure, repeated Nicholas Roerich’s words. She wrote of a new epoch in which Culture would dominate, emphasized the extreme necessity for its protection in those spheres in which it was not only violated, but also destroyed. “Fight with all your power, fight for your rights in the name of the common benefit, in the name of culture! Half-measures are always destructive. Demand a complete victory. Complete liberation, so that all means be directed at the expansion of the culture of the country! Actions, great actions are needed now.”[18, p.93] The appeal, written by Helena Roerich as long ago as 1931, has not lost its urgency today. The authorities in Russia were changed long ago, and many things have changed in the country in the recent years. But the significance of Culture is still not well understood, still actions causing damage to Culture are undertaken, still urgent is the problem of the protection of Culture. Roerich’s Pact not only remains a burning issue, but acquires even acuter character today, requiring a solution both at the level of the authorities and at the level of the public itself. The Russian authorities do not go into processes taking place in the space of culture and do not try to comprehend them, but just follow blindly the tendencies formed in it. In these authorities’ cultural policy, the above-mentioned domination of civilization shows itself clearly enough. The Russian authorities, due to their narrow-mindedness and often just ignorance, their lack of understanding of the role of culture and its significance for the country’s general development, set forth as a priority not culture as such, but civilization, issues separated from culture. So, the general policy of our authorities is first of all directed at material, social, and economic problems. They are not aware that this policy’s current lack of success is caused by the attitude towards culture, which proceeds from the “leftover principle.” At the same time, public opinion which is now being formed in Russia, also does not always pay due attention to the situation in culture. Historically, it has so happened that comprehension of the essence of culture and the urgent need for its protection has been understood by just a few people. There is no clear understanding that the renaissance of Russia is first of all determined by the protection and development of culture. The government playing with the so-called national idea strikes with its illiteracy, and at times absurdity. All kinds of phenomena are suggested to form this idea, including sports, in particular, soccer. And none of those who have real power has ever mentioned culture in connection with it. A national idea cannot be created in three months, as former President of Russia Boris Yeltsin once demanded. It is developed for centuries, and only in this form can serve as a stable uniting factor. What but culture can become such an idea? Its powerful spiritual energetics like a magnet bring together the country’s national interests that form its future.

“Now our camp is in the middle of a desert,” N. Roerich wrote in an expedition diary. “Once, someone, through lack of knowledge, destroyed vast forests, remainders of which we saw. After the forests, the grass was gone. And the water escaped into the ground. Desert! Exactly like this, anything can be destroyed through ignorance and malice. And who will need this desert, material or spiritual. [...] The powers that be, say resolutely! Repeat it again, and keep talking about peace and creation.”[19, p.141-142]

This is a surprisingly precise image of culture – a forest keeping the environment in balance and providing all the necessary elements for its vital processes. The forest chopped down, everything turned into a fruitless desert. The “chopping” or destruction of culture has the same significance for society. There are creators of culture, and there are destroyers of culture. In today’s Russia, the number of the latter is continually growing. These destroyers include officials of all kinds and positions, who have many destructions on their accounts. They acquire cultural objects for purposes having nothing to do with culture, the authorities’ representatives issue permits for the liquidation of cultural monuments, the State Parliament (Duma) deputies pass laws against culture without thinking of the consequences of their ignorant acts. The Orthodox church hierarchs who campaign against the Roerichs as creators of culture should be mentioned among this number, as well.

PAGES  The Roerich Pact|Relevance of the Roerich Pact in the modern world: 1234Notes|75 years of the Roerich Pact