While the armed conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria, former Yugoslavia, the Nagorno-Karabakh region, and the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine indicate that direct iconoclastic targeting, looting and indiscriminate shelling of cultural heritage continue to pose a grave danger, new latent –albeit no less dangerous threats– arise.
Russia’s occupation of Crimea and Ukraine’s eastern provinces of Donbas and its full-scale invasion in February 2022 indicate that conventional targeting is accompanied by: removal of archives; confiscation or replacement of history textbooks; indoctrination, including through militarisation, of education; impeded access to education in native, including indigenous, languages; de-contextualisation of artefacts through relocation or changing narratives around them; narrowing the diversity of commemorative practices; intentional refusals to preserve cultural heritage to showcase certain layers of history and erode others; distortive and ethnically-biased restoration of cultural objects; and neo-imperial renaming of geographical sites.
These practices are often less visible than an outcome of indiscriminate shelling or targeted destruction. And yet, exactly because of their often latent and protracted character, such hybrid encroachments on heritage are no less dangerous – they create the foundation of gradual cultural erasure. The consequences of such policies are deeply corrosive and require holistic action across the fields of culture, education, heritage management, mass media, criminal accountability, and remembrance policies.
In line with the Declaration of Ministers of Culture adopted in April 2022, the Parliamentary Assembly should investigate how conventional attacks against cultural property interplay with the wider hybrid encroachment on heritage in contemporary armed conflicts; what role the media, including state media, play in such policies; and envisage Council of Europe guidance to develop an international legal and policy response to such new forms of gradual cultural erasure in the context of existing Council of Europe conventions and international treaties.