Historical and cultural Internet project "Forgotten Heritage"
This is Ukraine's first Internet project, devoted to displaced cultural treasures that were removed from Ukraine in the 20th and 21st centuries. Our express goal is to create and continuously update a consolidated “Directory of Displaced and Lost Cultural Treasures.” Through this portal we will inform the general public about the views of the Ukrainian government and society with regard to displaced cultural treasures, as well as the implementation of relevant legislation. We will be reporting on ongoing quests for treasures lost in different periods of national history and, whenever possible, on their return. Our reports will include the latest developments in this sphere from the point of view of historical scholarship, international law and international politics, as well as relevant current events, such as conferences, presentations, new publications, etc.
This project endeavors to promote a positive image of Ukraine on the national and international scene, by strengthening its reputation as a state that deeply cares for its historical and cultural heritage. This project will be supported nationally and internationally.
The project’s target audience includes: historians and art historians, both national and international; museum and library science experts; archivists; lawyers, specializing in international law; members of diplomatic missions; journalists; state agencies whose portfolio includes the question of national treasures, as well as a wide range of individuals with an interest in the topic.
Throughout the 20th and the early part of the 21st century, Ukraine suffered a number of cataclysmic events, during which much of its historical and cultural heritage was damaged or lost. The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and the ensuing civil war—against the background of the creation of several new state formations—unleashed a process of massive theft of Ukraine’s cultural treasures. This involved the removal abroad of the most valuable exhibits from museum collections and even their destruction. The process continued through the 1920s and 1930s, when in the process of building a new industrial state, the USSR, massive export and sale abroad of artistic treasures took place.
During World War II and the occupation of 1939-1945, as well as during the early postwar years, even more losses occurred. These were brought about not only by the massive removal of artifacts by the Nazis, but also by the evacuation of treasures deep into the USSR, far away from Ukraine. Many of the evacuated treasures were lost due to military operations and a rather ambiguous reparation processes.
Ukraine's declaration of independence in 1991 and the opening of many previously closed archives—including those of the Cheka-NKVD-KGB and other state bodies, as well as documents belonging to Nazi occupation administrations—raised for our country and its scholarly community a set of questions about the legal status of cultural treasures that were never returned to Ukraine.
More recently, the opening of the archives belonging to Ukraine’s Security Service, which also contain materials about the removal of cultural treasures, has increased the urgency of the task before us, hence the need to create this Internet project. It is essential not only for the image of our state, but also for the wellbeing of Ukrainian society. Unlike many European counterparts, Ukraine does not have a comprehensive resource devoted to displaced and lost cultural treasures, and relevant information for their repatriation.
We have two examples of successful restitution since 1991. A painting by the Dutch artist Cornelis van Poelenburgh, “Arcadian landscape,” which had been in the collection of the Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko Museum in Kyiv, was finally returned to its proper place. Also, frescoes of the medieval Cathedral of St. Michael, which had been removed to Russia in the 1930s, were returned in part. But such examples of restitution are few and far between, especially if we consider the vast inventory of Ukrainian artifacts that still remain outside Ukraine.
Currently there is ongoing litigation concerning the return from the Netherlands to Ukraine of items that had been lent by museums in Kyiv and the Crimea for an exhibit devoted to “Scythian Gold.” In the USA, negotiations continue concerning the possible restitution to the heirs of a collector of the diptych “Adam” and “Eve” by Lucas Cranach the Elder, currently housed in the Norton Museum, but which in 1931 belonged to a museum in Kyiv.
Our portal is the first resource of its kind in Ukraine. In addition to the aforementioned “Directory of Displaced and Lost Cultural Treasures,” it will feature scholarly works, publications, and photographs. The portal will also engage interactively with experts and all those interested in this issue, as well as provide information about current conferences, exhibits, expositions, as well as scholarly publications.
The structure consists of several resource categories:
1. Catalogue displaced and lost cultural values;
2. The legal materials on displaced cultural values and restitution issues (not only Ukrainian, but also international law materials);
3. Scientific publications on the theory and methodology of the problems related to displaced cultural values, and publications on the history and fate of different museums, archives, libraries, individual collections and exhibits;
4. The materials for this public information, particularly on various activities: exhibitions, presentations, among them media coverage;
5. The collection of links to similar resources.
Artur Rudzitsky, art historian, President of the Association of European Journalists AEJ - Ukraine