One of the many paradoxes of war is destruction with simultaneous protection of civilians and cultural heritage. We know the political figures and weapons of war and see photographs in the press of anonymous bloody lifeless corpses twisted in the wreckage of urban settings. How can one possibly think of cultural heritage with so much human suffering. Yet, cultural monuments are targeted, pillaged, looted, destroyed all too often.
Cultural heritage is for the survivors, the future, world knowledge and ultimately, a record of human accomplishments.
In light of World Heritage Day on April 18th, one of the most innovative public education campaign tools available is the Protect Cultural Heritage playing cards and brochures created by the Norwegians. A team of military, cultural heritage and arts professionals have collaborated to create playing cards appropriate for all social and business sectors that intersect with looting or damage of cultural heritage sites: military, customs, police, diplomatic, international businesses, museums and even more ingenious and essential – tourists, antique dealers and collectors.
The Norwegian are not the first to create educational cultural heritage cards for distribution in conflict or war zones. Yet, they may be the first to actually engage a public awareness education and prevention campaign.
For conflict zones, a number of international efforts have created education tools to help protect cultural heritage. The U.S. Department of Defense created playing cards to educate on Iraq, Afghanistan and Egyptian heritage. The Dutch have their own set as well that educate on the broader on the topic of cultural heritage and protection. Now, the first contingent of Norwegian Armed Forces with these playing card are entering Syria.
However, the ingenious nature of the Norwegian campaign is that they are directly engaging with the public, the potential buyers of looted cultural heritage artifacts. They recently participated in the annual Travel Fair in Oslo to distribute the cards and clever brochures with questions, “Do you want anything illegal in your home? Think before you buy art and artifacts.”
The cards include a photo and an educational message in English and Norwegian. Perhaps the best information and advice in the deck of cards for travelers, tourists and collectors of ‘ancient’ souvenirs, include:
Buying looted artefacts is illegal. They will be confiscated and you risk a criminal record. (Photo of market souvenirs “Legal or Illegal” by Leif Pareli)
Cylindrical seals were used in the Middle East in ancient times. Do not buy them! (Photo of Cylindrical seal, Iraq courtesy of Musuem of Cultural History, Norway)
Buying ancient ‘souvenirs’ encourages looting – think before you buy! (Photo of Maya vase, Guatemala by ICOM Red List)
We need your help in protecting cultural property. (Photo of The Citadel of Aleppo, Syria by Lief Pareli)
“Take a photo and leave the cultural property undisturbed.”
The cards were designed by Unn Bjørge of Art Council Norway in partnership with the Norwegian Armed Forces, Blue Shield Norway, Cultural Heritage of Norway, and ICOM Norway. Liv Ramskjaer, Senior Advisor of the Arts Council Norway commented on the challenges to produce the set of cards,
“One challenge is the rights and potential costs for photos. This project had not been possible if we had to pay for them. I am extremely glad for these contributions! It is very generous!”
For World Heritage Day on April 18th, take one action to help educate colleagues in international business, diplomacy, military, travelers, ancient souvenir collectors and the general public. What action will you take?
Joining the international campaign to raise awareness is the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) who announced on April 5 that they are launching a campaign later this year to inform travelers and tourists on “the types of illicit goods and services to which they are often exposed during their travels and which directly or indirectly fund organized crime groups.”
“The illegal trade in goods and services often funds unscrupulous people involved in human trafficking, the illicit ivory trade and other areas that cause immense suffering and destruction. Well-informed tourists can make a real difference in turning the tide against these criminal acts.” says UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
By Keri Douglas, writer/photographer, Washington, D.C. (Please follow 9 Muses News copyright use policy.)