Theme 15: War and Conflict
Friedrich Schipper (University of Vienna)
The WAC community has dealt with the theme of the destruction of cultural heritage during armed conflict at least for the past two congresses (Dublin and the Dead Sea) as well as three inter-congresses (Ramallah, Vienna and Rome). In the meanwhile, it has become a permanent topic of academic discourse. As a result of this intensive and sometimes controversial process, WAC has recently adopted a new accord: “The WAC Accord on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict” or, for short “The Dead Sea Accord”. This is a milestone. But what next?
At the base of the Dead Sea Accord is the belief that culture, including knowledge, history, traditions, language, adaptations, technology, art, literature, architecture and material culture – in short, both portable and non portable, both tangible and intangible – is a basic human right. WAC’s focus on the protection of material culture as a subcategory of culture makes it clear that human life is always a priority. But this does not discount the significance of material culture – rather it makes the connection between humans and all aspects of their culture very clear. Meanwhile, the destruction of cultural heritage in armed conflict has turned to a renaissance of iconoclasm beyond all legal and ethical norms. Prominent representatives of civil society publicly label this destruction as a war crime or crime against humanity. And the current events worldwide demonstrate the interdependence between ethnic and cultural cleansing.
As a community, we, our discussions, our papers and our accords are at the cutting edge of contemporary controversy and ethics. At upcoming WAC-8 we will again strive for engaging a broad range of questions, including philosophical, ethical, juridical, humanitarian, social, sociological, psychological, humanistic, historical, religious, cultural, economic, political, and military aspects in order to face the new reality, dimension and nature of cultural heritage destruction and to define our role and tasks as a scientific community in helping to protect what we try to explore.