In DECOPE, researchers in Norway, Scotland, and Spain address the challenges of providing helpful and appropriate care for cultural heritage in conflict and post-conflict environments, focusing on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
A main goal of the project is to identify the challenges, impacts and effects of local, national and international responses in order to create more effective and targeted support for the work of professionals and communities in the future.
In the attacks on Ukraine, as in many other armed conflicts, cultural objects and monuments become targets of wilful and collateral destruction. As a central part of the project, we are therefore studying how, and by whom, narratives about cultural heritage are produced and used in different local, regional, national and international contexts.
Aid and capacity-building for cultural heritage, as well as societal reconstruction through cultural heritage have become established activities within international emergency responses. This signals a growing awareness of the potential of cultural heritage to facilitate social cohesion and healing. However, what these interventions mean, how they function, and what determines their success is rarely analysed beyond matters of diplomacy or efficiency.
The DECOPE research team investigates how peaceful neighbours handle threats to cultural heritage in war zones. We track support initiatives and networks of cooperation across Europe, investigate their impact, and identify the challenges of providing helpful aid and assistance in conflict and post-conflict environments. Through online and face-to-face fieldwork, we work with Ukrainian heritage professionals to understand how they have mobilised to mitigate damage to both the heritage they manage and their professional lives.
During the initial phases of the project, efforts were devoted to consolidating the project’s theoretical framing and methodological approach through a series of online meetings (on Teams) and face to face workshops (in Madrid) involving the core project team and associate partners. Ethical and methodological principles were discussed to establish a shared understanding underpinning individual partner ethics applications and risk assessments. As part of the first completed work package (WP1) we also established the remit of the Project Reference Group, members of which will be involved in co-design of pathways to impact and evaluation of impact outputs, at various stages of the project.
The war between Russia and Ukraine firmly locates major challenges relating to heritage, society and ethics in areas of armed conflict in the heart of Europe. Against this backdrop, DECOPE aims to investigate how care is mobilised for cultural heritage during armed conflict, identifying the challenges, impacts and effects of local, national and international responses in order to create more effective, competent and targeted support for the work of professionals and communities.
When national institutions are severely strained in war zones, alternative, ad-hoc structures emerge. These can help accelerate the impact and effectiveness of care and collaboration with international institutions providing aid. Yet, the power void created by severe damage to bureaucracy and opaque processes of rapid response makes cultural property vulnerable to expropriation in the name of cultural patrimony and trafficking of cultural property under guise of “rescue”. DECOPE explores the contraditionc and consequences of nationally-driven cultural heritage policies for heritage management, community involvement and global responsibility. While tracking Ukrainian heritage “rescue” projects across Europe, the project will pinpoint the challenges of providing aid/assistance and reveal how, and by whom, narratives about cultural heritage are produced and used in different local, regional, national and international contexts. Through online and face-to-face fieldwork, we work with Ukrainian heritage professionals to understand how they work to mitigate damage to both the heritage they manage and their professional lives. Through cooperation with public administrators, we identify barriers, bottlenecks and constraints and produce guidance and resources to create more effective and sustainable collaboration between international and national organizations and heritage professionals, NGOs and lay communities working ‘on the ground’.
Keywords: Care, war, trafficking, emergency response, Ukraine