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‘Conflict and Cultural Destruction: Why Totalitarian Regimes Seek to Destroy Cultural Memory’ – Deborah Lehr at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars

January 28, 2016

January 28, 2016

Antiquities Coalition chairman and co-founder, Deborah Lehr, spoke on the importance of preventing cultural racketeering and the need for practical legal and policy solutions at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars for the opening of the art exhibition, “Last Folio: A Photographic Memory.”

The Woodrow Wilson Center commemorated International Holocaust Remembrance Day (January 27, 2016) by hosting the photography exhibition “Last Folio: A Photographic Memory” by the celebrated artist and photographer, Yuri Dojc, and film producer, Katya Krausova.  The exhibition has been seen on both sides of the Atlantic, throughout Europe, Russia, and several cities in the United States. Making its Washington, DC debut, the exhibition is a collection of images on the books and culturally significant buildings that were destroyed in Slovakia during the Holocaust and includes a documentary on first-hand accounts by Holocaust survivors and their families. The exhibit is co-sponsored by the Embassies of Slovakia and Canada and the Friends of Slovakia.

Wilson CenterThe opening was preceded by a panel discussion, “Conflict and Cultural Destruction: Why Totalitarian Regimes Seek to Destroy Cultural Memory.” The distinguished panel included Cristina Bejan (researcher, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum), Peter Black (historian and scholar, previously Senior Historian and Director of the Division of the Senior Historian, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum), Deborah Lehr (Chairman and Founder, the Antiquities Coalition), and Azar Nafisi (visiting professor, Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies), moderated by Christian F. Ostermann (director of History and Public Policy Program and Global Europe Program, Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars). The discussion centered around how the control of art lends itself to totalitarian suppression and superiority, and how the destruction of the diversity and “multi-vocality” of culture paves the way for totalitarian power.

Following the attacks in Paris, the disarmed bomb at the Temple of Karnak in Luxor in Egypt, and the targeting of libraries, shrines, and museums by terrorist groups, the destruction of cultural heritage has never more systematic and pervasive. The destruction of heritage, Ms. Lehr stated, isn’t simply the demolition of statues and monuments, but an attack on our shared history, the elimination of economic opportunity, and a precursor to ethnic cleansing. While the looting of and illicit trafficking of antiquities to finance terrorism poses an enormous threat to the integrity of our material culture, there are things that individuals, organizations, communities, and nations can do to prevent this from continuing. In the past two years, the Antiquities Coalition has convened heads of state, government officials, experts, business and legal professionals, and leaders of institutions to advocate ending the global destruction and illicit trade of cultural heritage to finance terrorism. In September 2015, the Antiquities Coalition co-convened a gathering of foreign ministers, ambassadors, and leaders in the archaeological, law enforcement, and museum communities to explore joint solutions to the crisis in Syria and Iraq.

Wilson Center PresentationA few key recommendations for action we can take to stem this trade include not buying conflict antiquities, building capacity and training in conflict countries, preventing the spread of cultural heritage destruction as front page news, creating jobs and economic opportunities for local populations, and raising global awareness about the consequences of purchasing conflict antiquities that might be funding terrorist activities.

We have a collective responsibility to protect not only our shared cultural heritage but also our right to express art, language, and free speech. We urge you to join the Antiquities Coalition in the fight against the destruction of our shared heritage.



For more details on the event, please click here.