“Покажи більше українського мистецтва та культури!”

02.03.2022“Покажи більше українського мистецтва та культури!”

The SPK has been working closely with scientists and scholars in Ukraine for years. How has the situation changed since 2014 and the Russian invasion of February 24, 2022 – and what can be done now?

By Elena Then

 Flag in Blue and Yellow on a balcony
Showing the flag: SPK shows solidarity with Ukraine © SBB PK / Sandra Caspers

"Show more Ukrainian art and culture!" That was the appeal made by Minister of State for Culture Claudia Roth to Germany’s museums, theaters, concert organizers, and cultural institutions on February 27 – the fourth day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Although Ukraine and Russia are closely linked by their history, it is now important to show that Ukraine has a culture of its own, which cannot automatically be equated with that of Russia, said SPK President Hermann Parzinger.

The SPK has had close ties with Ukraine for many years, beside its relations with Russia. The Museum Europäischer Kulturen (Museum of European Cultures) of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (National Museums in Berlin) owns around 1,200 objects from the everyday culture and popular art of various social classes in the nineteenth century, originating from areas in present-day Ukraine. Most of them come from the Tatars of the Crimean Peninsula and were collected locally in the 1920s and 1990s. Until the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014, the museum kept in close contact with local scholars and museum professionals, with whom it worked on a variety of projects, primarily in Berlin. The Russian take-over of Crimea in 2014 led to contacts being abruptly broken off; to this day, it has not been possible to resume them, owing to the politically precarious situation of the Crimean Tatars.

The museum took the Russian annexation in 2014 as an opportunity to react relatively quickly to political and social issues; it decided to highlight the links to its own collection by establishing a new format, "The Current Showcase." This consists of a large display case in the museum's foyer, which now bears the name "Motion Detector." Motion Detector #1 was titled "What do the Crimean Tatars have to do with the Museum of European Cultures?”

In the light of their experience of the invasion in 2014, German scholars are all the more worried now: "The fear is that our counterparts and their museums, including the collections themselves, are in serious danger. One local museum in eastern Ukraine has already been badly damaged, but they probably managed to save the collections," says the director of the Museum Europäischer Kulturen, Elisabeth Tietmeyer, who has been closely involved with the Crimean Tatar collection and its presentation since 1994.

Showcase in a museum
Motion detector at the Museum of European Cultures after the annexation of Crimea in 2014: "What do the Crimean Tatars have to do with the Museum of European Cultures?" © Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin, Museum Europäischer Kulturen / Ute Franz-Scarciglia

"At the moment, the situation is too dangerous for us to help actively. When the war is over, inventories will have to be taken on site. For that, the help of logisticians and restorers, in particular, would probably be needed. The SPK should not go it alone in this matter, however, but rather act in concert with ICOM (International Council of Museums), because that is the main channel of contact with our Ukrainian colleagues.

The Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin (Berlin State Library – SBB) has a collection of around 43,000 printed works from the territory of present-day Ukraine, which grows every year by around 1,000 titles published in places such as Kyiv, Lviv, and Kharkov. It also has publications about Ukraine written in Western languages, with a focus on the humanities and social sciences. With financial support from the DFG, the library hosts a specialist information service for Slavic Studies, which also covers publications on the Ukrainian language and literature, including novels and collections of short stories or poems – some in the original language and others translated into German. New acquisitions are announced via the Slavic Studies portal, the online catalog of the SBB, and the acquisitions service of the Eastern European department.

Building with flags in Blue and Yellow
Ukrainian flags have recently been flying on the houses of SPK. © SBB PK / Sandra Caspers

The library also preserves an archive on behalf of the Sing-Akademie zu Berlin, which includes most of the part of the collection that was returned to the Sing-Akademie from Kyiv in 2001. This part had been taken to Silesia after World War II and later moved from there to Kyiv, where it did not come to light again until the late 1990s. It is not least for this reason that the head of the Eastern European department, Olaf Hamann, belongs to the joint German-Ukrainian government commission on cultural assets relocated as a result of the war, whose work is currently on hold owing to the pandemic. On this basis, the SBB is also trying to build up relations with the National Library in Kyiv. However, an invitation issued by the director in Kyiv, Dr. Lyubov Dubrovina, could not be taken up because of the pandemic. At a smaller scale, there is still an organized exchange of publications with the Національна бібліотека України імені Ярослава Мудрого (Nacional'na biblioteka Ukraïny imeni Jaroslava Mudroho).

The war is a heavy blow to further work on the Ukraine collection in the Eastern European department of the SBB, and its consequences can hardly be estimated. The delivery routes are blocked and book production in Ukraine has come to a standstill. Book production in eastern Ukraine had already declined significantly since Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014. The SBB will no longer be able to provide current monographs and magazine issues, if they appear at all. It is completely uncertain whether some of these publications will find their way into the SBB repository at some time in the future. To date, the SBB has hardly any online publications from Ukraine.

The development of a closer relationship with the National Library cannot be pursued for the time being either. The libraries in Kyiv are closed at the time of writing, but it is not known whether the fighting has affected libraries so far and, if so, to what extent.

The prime concern of the staff at the SBB is the safety and welfare of the people in Ukraine and of those who have had to flee – sheltering and helping them has the highest priority. Besides this, the war is enormous threat to the country's entire infrastructure, including cultural assets and libraries. It is fervently hoped that a viable solution for peace and a free Ukraine can be reached soon. Help should be offered to the Ukrainian libraries as soon as it is possible.

How you can help

This could take the form of technical assistance, for example with the restoration of damaged stock, or could extend to supplying books. But this can only be decided after the hostilities have ceased.

The staff of the SBB's Eastern European department includes people from many Eastern European nations. Some of them have relatives and friends in Ukraine. All are deeply troubled by these events and their thoughts are with the people affected by them.

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