Brunel University London: Russia’s culture crushing in Ukraine will leave deep scars, warns UN rights expert

Systematic violations of Ukraine’s cultural rights will have devastating effects on post-war healing, cautions Brunel human rights lawyer, Prof Alexandra Xanthaki.

“We currently witness the unfolding of suffering in Ukraine that does not seem to end and we cannot stop,” said Prof Xanthaki, UN Special Rapporteur on cultural rights.

“The questioning and denial of the Ukrainian identity and history as a justification for war, is a violation of the Ukrainians’ right to self-determination and their cultural rights.

“Self-identification is the paramount expression of these rights and all discussions, by States and in social media, should respect this.”

The shattering loss of cultural heritage and destruction of cultural artefacts is worrying for both Ukrainians and minorities there, Prof Xanthaki said and will make it harder to build a peaceful multicultural society after the war.

Russian destruction of city centres, cultural sites and monuments and museums are all part of the identity of people in Ukraine, she said and “their loss will have a lasting effect.” the expert said. This echoes UNESCO’s fear that cultural life in its entirety is at risk of disappearing.

Everybody’s cultural rights – those of Ukrainians, Russians and other minorities living in Ukraine, the Russian Federation, and elsewhere must be fully respected and protected, she stressed.

“As the battles rage on, we are not completely powerless. Beyond recalling that the rules of international humanitarian and human rights law should be scrupulously applied by all parties to the conflict, we must ensure that culture helps us maintain our dignity and is not used as a means to pursue and fuel the war.

“We often do not measure how devastating violations of cultural rights can be for peace. Attempts against academic and artistic freedoms, linguistic rights, falsification and distortion of historical facts, denigration of identities and denial of the right to self-determination result to further degeneration and fueling of open conflict.”

Despite this, many in Ukraine are devoted to protecting their endangered heritage and are using arts to rejection of the war and call for peace.

But indiscriminately banning and excluding Russian artists performing and taking part in cultural events is harmful too, Prof Xanthaki said. “I am saddened by the numerous restrictions affecting Russian artists in retaliation for the actions of the Russian Government, as well as by the deprogramming of sometimes centuries-old works of art from Russian writers or composers.”

“It is especially in this situation of continuous dehumanisation, that culture and cultural rights must be visible and visibly push for humanity, empathy and peaceful co-existence,” she said.