Inetrnational Centre of the Roerichs

International Non-Governmental Organization | Special consultative status with UN ECOSOC
Associate member with UN DPI | Institutional member of International Council of Museums (ICOM)
Member of pan-European Federation for Cultural Heritage EUROPA NOSTRA | Associate member with INTO

Roerichs' familyRoerichs' evolutionary actionsMuseum named after Nicholas RoerichPublishing activity
Scientific enlightment workProtection of the Roerichs' name and heritageICR: general information

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Since April 28, 2017, the Non-Governmental Museum Named after Nicholas Roerich went defunct with the illegal seizure of its building and territory.

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Peace through Culture

Mrs Manju Kak

As Russian President Dimitry Medvedev visits India to nurture a strategic partnership, in Moscow chill wintry winds have begun to blow though the sun shines brightly. While he discusses with counterparts means to combat nuclear and other terror, military armament, and space exploration, the sheen-like waters of Moskva river glisten as it winds past erstwhile grand mansions and palaces. Paradoxically, while the Russian Soviets preserved Moscow’s legacy of Czarist buildings, today as new wealth dominates this luxury-crazed city, worries over the preservation of historic architecture loom.

“Between the decades 1940 to 1990, we have destroyed 50 per cent of our cultural heritage,” says Archduke Karl von Hapsburg-Lothringen, president of the International Committee of the Blue Shield. In the past, international or national conflicts targeted infrastructure. But today, when strife is increasingly based on ethnicity, cultural property becomes the object of rage. Established in 1996, the “Blue Shield” Committees aim to be for cultural heritage what the Red Cross is to human life.

People’s right to culture is “right to life”, says professor Viktor V. Frylov, deputy director of the Nicholas Roerich Museum, Moscow, celebrating 75 years of the Roerich Peace Pact this year. The International Pact is named after the Russian-born artist who made Kullu in the Indian Himalayas his home, and is based on a document drafted by Georges Chklaver, doctor of international law and political science at the University of Paris. Artists have a special calling for they are particularly sensitive to the cause of culture. From the Russo-Jap war (1905) onwards, the early 20th century was devastated by war on a scale not seen before. With WW-II looming, an effort to make nations responsible for culture was made by Roerich through a gathering of artists, scientists, teachers, priests, politicians from 35 countries met who met at Bruges to give their endorsement to these ideas.

On April 14, 1935, representatives of the US and 20 Latin American countries signed the Roerich Peace Pact at the White House in Washington. The contribution of the Roerich Pact to the articles of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, the Second Protocol of 1999, both of which form the basis of our cultural treaties is well-documented.

“Thought is the core of our evolution,” says philosopher and Indologist, Ludmilla V. Shaposhnikova. Recognising her contribution to cultural preservation, she was awarded the 2010 Europa Nostra Award, (EU’s cultural arm) for making the dilapidated Lopukhins Estate into one of the finest museums dedicated to N. Roerich’s work both as a painter and cultural/peace activist. Established in 1963, Europa Nostra represents 400 organisations across Europe and is headed by the Spanish tenor Placido Domingo. Particularly after the Iraq National Museum was looted (2003), the Kabul Museum defaced and Bamyan Buddhas obliterated in Afghanistan(2001), Mostar’s 16th century Stari Most across Neretva River destroyed in Croatian attack (1993), this work becomes essential, says, vice-president of Europa Nostra, Alexander Furst zu Sayn-Wittgenstein. India, too, is not a stranger to the socio-religious scars caused by the vandalism of temples and mosques, particularly of the Babri Mosque (1992).

The cognition of beauty is what will save mankind, said Dostoevsky. But, says Maria Teresa Dutli, of the International Humanitarian Law of the Red Cross, though 1954 Hague Convention prohibits the deportation of cultural property from the region, many states do not have the requisite legal framework to protect this. International law can establish framework for legislation, but measures have to be taken nationally to make it a ground reality.

Clearly cultural property is non renewable. Sometimes we lose heritage through financial reasons, or natural disasters, strife and war. But lovers of beauty have always played a part in its conservation. When fascist governments and monarchies were destroying Europe, visionaries like N. Roerich, Richard von Coudenhove-Kalergi (Pan-Europa), Henry Dunant’s (Red Cross) were presenting ideas that crossed national boundaries.

During WWII even as the Allies landed in Italy, it took a Nazi Army officer, Lt. Col Schlegel to move the treasures of the Monte Cassino Monastery in Italy (paintings of da Vinci, Titian, Raphael etc, the remains of St. Benedict, 70,000 volumes and 1,200 original documents) to safety in the Vatican on his own initiative. Thus, saving them from destruction during the ensuing battle of 1944.

“Unfortunately, for governments the protection of culture is low priority. Whenever there are budget cuts, culture takes a bashing,” says Gen. Norbert Furstenhofer, president of the Austrian Heritage Society. However, the Austrian government has taken an affirmative step by linking the legal mandate of the military to protect culture.

Preparedness is the key, says architect Col. Holger Eichberger who advocates specially designed shelter rooms for keeping valuable objects as a priority for museums and art establishments. In times of natural disaster, the Army’s help has been invaluable, eg, the earthquakes at Calabritto (1980) in Southern Italy, and in Armenia (1988). When you need skilled personnel in a crisis, military can be the best option before voluntary organisations step in.

Today, when more and more organisations work in sisterly fashion to protect culture in times of war or national disaster, it is important to foster supra-national thinking. Says Shaposhnikova: “When we are exploring our consciousness of cosmic space the Oneness of Nature manifests as taught in Indian spiritual texts of the Vedanta and Upanishads. As much as political boundaries separate, it is the awareness of the contiguous bonds of air, space and water that bind.”

India has been the spiritual home of the Roerichs, as much as mother Russia. Both are old souls. Clearly, one of Russia’s double-headed eagles faces east, a fact Roerich reminded his own countrymen of when Russian court culture was heavily Francophone. Today, this is especially significant when we speak of culture. Adds Manish Prabhat, head of the Jawaharlal Nehru Cultural Centre, Moscow: “There are more than 50 voluntary Indian cultural centres, started by Russians at their own initiative, spread across 30 cities of Russia up to remote parts of Siberia.”

As we march forward in this tenth year of Indo-Russian strategic partnership in areas of gas exploration, defence, energy, science and technology, it is important, too, to keep our mutual cultural bonding consensual, alive and vibrant in its shared spiritual and philosophical space.

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