Emergency fund to protect cultural heritage

October 2003 -

The Prince Claus Fund presented the new Cultural Emergency Response (CER) fund for the protection of cultural heritage during times of war in the Prinsenhof in Delft. The CER was established after cultural treasures and libraries were destroyed during the war in Iraq. The fund is intended to provide emergency assistance for the protection, maintenance and restoration of cultural heritage that is threatened by war or natural disaster.

The Prince Claus Fund established the CER in cooperation with the International Committee of the Blue Shields (ICBS), an organisation involved in the protection of cultural heritage since 1996. 'Thanks to the existence of the CER, we will be able to take more concrete action,' explained chairman Ross Shimmon during the meeting in the Prinsenhof. Blue Shields does not have its own funds and has focused its activities to date on making the general public aware of the importance of protecting monuments and on urging governments and organisations to take measures.

The Iraq archaeologist Selma Al-Radi held a presentation on what can happen to a museum during a war. She presented examples in Lebanon, Kuwait and Iraq.

The Beirut museum was in the front line of action during that country's civil war. The museum staff was able to bring the smaller objects to safety in Damascus. Larger pieces were protected on-site: sarcophagi were encased in concrete, transforming them into unrecognisable blocks. Mosaics were hidden under a layer of plastic, board and concrete. Although the museum and its collection suffered extensive damages, many valuable pieces were saved.

Entrance to the Kabul Museum, Kabul, 2002

The staff of the Iraq museum in Baghdad started bringing a large part of the collection to safety a few weeks before the war erupted, but the museum was extensively looted. 'Professionals' gained access with glass cutters and keys they had found; other gangs soon followed. Striking is the fact that the looters primarily took objects from a period that specialists call 'popular on the market'.

Selma Al-Radi: 'Iraq is an example of a country that has extraordinarily many art treasures but that has also been victimised regularly by wars and looting. Destruction is a known theme, and protection is absolutely vital.'

The afternoon was concluded by the announcement of the CER's first activity. From the EURO 120,000.00 fund, a gift of EURO 25,000.00 has been donated to the library of the Baghdad university.