Prof. Piotr GLIŃSKI: Helping Ukraine is Our Civilizational Duty

Helping Ukraine is Our Civilizational Duty

Photo of Prof. Piotr GLIŃSKI

Prof. Piotr GLIŃSKI

Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Culture and National Heritage.

Ryc.Fabien Clairefond

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In the face of unjustified Russian aggression against Ukraine, we must all withstand and show selfless solidarity. Widespread aid to the Ukrainians is a sine qua non for the restoration of security and peace in our part of the world.

.For the past nine months, in the center of Europe, just over Poland’s eastern border, Ukraine has been fighting for sovereignty and freedom. We must understand, though, that Ukraine is not only fighting for survival, integrity or the right to live with dignity for its citizens. By resisting Russian aggression, the Ukrainians battle for European civilisation and culture; for the values of the whole civilised world. With the attack on Ukraine, Russia has violated the foundations of our civilisation and abandoned its most important achievements – for that’s what they do by killing civilians and children, bombing hospitals, schools and humanitarian convoys, and violating international conventions.

Poles, more than any other nation, understand the Russian civilization of death and destruction and are able to assess the extent of Russian crimes. We also know how precious a country’s freedom and independence are. That is why, since 24 February, we have constantly been supporting those making the supreme sacrifice in the name of freedom and independence. It is estimated that 70% of Poles have been involved in various forms of aid to Ukraine. The Polish nation has proved it can unite in the face of a threat. The immense work carried out by volunteers, uniformed services, employees of the state, local and church institutions and citizens who join in saving the lives of Ukrainians will make history.

The war caused by Russian aggression has brought death and suffering to hundreds of thousands of people, as well as enormous material losses, including on the symbolic level. Day by day, we see the Russians destroy Ukrainian culture and rich heritage – both directly, with missiles falling on monuments and cultural institutions, and indirectly, by provoking crises in the supply of energy and other utilities. The 1954 Hague Convention clearly states that the destruction of heritage or cultural property in the course of conflict is a war crime. That is why we have been committed to supporting cultural institutions and heritage protection activities in Ukraine since the very first day of the war. We remain in direct contact with Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko and Ukraine’s Ministry of Culture and Information Policy, as well as with Ukrainian institutions, such as museums, art institutions, libraries and archives.

Right at the outset of the war, we established the Polish Support Center for Culture in Ukraine, which organises and coordinates transports of materials necessary for securing archives, relics and museum pieces. The Center serves as a hub for cultural institutions around the world, meaning that Poland is a channel for aid sent from museums, cultural institutions and international organisations to Ukraine. Transports include power generators, wooden boxes, fire blankets, mineral wool, OSBs, polyester pipes, fire extinguishers and sandbags. We also support Ukrainians in physically securing monuments on site. In addition, the Polish government has become involved in establishing the Lublin Triangle Fund for Digitisation of Cultural Heritage in Ukraine, postulated by the authorities in Kyiv. Polish institutions participate in the scanning of cultural heritage objects and the creation of a digital platform for their archiving, preservation, development and dissemination.

Supporting Ukraine in preserving its culture and heritage, we must remember that we step into an extremely sensitive area of great symbolic importance for the Ukrainian nation. Therefore, when declaring our readiness to accommodate people and cultural goods, we must ensure this will be done with great sensitivity and respect. In the symbolic dimension, the evacuation of cultural property is somewhat the last resort, thus, while signalling our readiness to protect the collections or part of the collections belonging to cultural institutions in Ukraine, we have never pressed and will not press on this issue. 

Poland also lends support to artists and cultural workers sheltering from the war in our country. Our institutions organise internships and artist residencies, offer accommodation,  jobs and language courses, and provide storage rooms for charity items. Art schools help Ukrainian students continue their artistic education. The Kyiv Symphony Orchestra, the Slobozhansky Youth Academic Symphony Orchestra from Kharkiv and the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra were preparing for their European and world tours in Poland. It was here, back in March, that the first exhibition of digital reproductions of Maria Prymachenko’s works was held; it is Polish museums and galleries that continue organising exhibitions of Ukrainian art, including contemporary artists; and finally, it is the Polish archives that have created and coordinate the project Mum, I don’t want war!. It is an unparalleled bilingual exhibition that puts together historical drawings by Polish children from 1946 stored in Polish resources – a record of their experiences from World War II and the German occupation between 1939-1945 – along with contemporary drawings by Ukrainian children related to the current war in Ukraine, acquired through the Mom, I see war portal. The exhibition was also displayed at most Polish diplomatic missions around the world, including in front of the European Parliament in Brussels. In addition, Polish media have launched special channels and news programmes in Ukrainian. 

In addition to material aid and creating working opportunities for people involved in culture creation and maintenance, it is equally important to provide political support for the preservation of Ukrainian culture and heritage. Since the beginning of the war, Poland has actively expressed its support for Minister Tkachenko’s call to impose culture-related sanctions on Russia and to restrict the aggressor state’s cultural international activity. We have been advocating, among others, that Russia be stripped of its UNESCO membership, that any cooperation with representatives of the Russian Federation’s cultural world be withheld, and that the presentation of works of Russian culture and Russian artists in the public space be suspended. Poland is also engaged in a joint effort with other Baltic States to block the spread of Russian propaganda through satellite platforms with operators based in the European Union.

.In the face of unjustified Russian aggression against Ukraine, we must all withstand and show selfless solidarity. Widespread aid to the Ukrainians is a sine qua non for the restoration of security and peace in our part of the world. This is our civilisational duty towards our neighbours and towards future generations, but also to our culture, which is now being defended by Ukraine’s resistance against barbaric Russia. 

Piotr Gliński

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