Russian Experience in Heritage: Interaction with Memory, Values and Trauma

HeritageForAll – Global Collaboration Program (2018)

By Ms. Evgeniya Kartashova (

She has a bachelor in journalism. Then, she has worked for two years in Institute of Russian Realist Art in Moscow as a PR specialist. Also, She was an intern in GARAGE museum and volunteered in GULAG Museum in Moscow. At the moment, she is studying at the master program “World Heritage Studies” at BTU Cottbus and doing an internship at Momentum Worldwide gallery in Berlin. She is interested in the fields of cultural heritage management together with the educational museum programs interacting with the audience.


Russian Federation is officially represented in UNESCO World Heritage List by 28 cultural and natural heritage sites [1]. 17 of them were nominated for cultural criteria, the rest – for natural criteria that gives Russia an enormous numeral advantage in comparison with other countries. Russia holds vast territories with a large number of diverse natural landscapes that can also be considered a specific national feature. Curiously enough, the bulk of Russian cultural heritage consists of monasteries. The sites’ selection is normally determined by core values of a represented country. In case of Russia, we can see a preponderance of religion.

Furthermore, it is necessary to underline the absence of nominated historical sites that could serve as evidence of crimes against humanity or tragic historical events (such as Auschwitz Birkenau in Poland that was inscribed with VI criteria [2]). For example, Belomorkanal (White Sea Channel) built in the 1930s was one of the most outstanding examples of construction work of its time – and, by the way, the reason of death of more than 12, 000 people involved in its making [3]. The huge building site was an example of inhumane working conditions, but later the channel almost came out of use – the intensity of navigation decreased dramatically in 1990s. A museum was established on the territory of Belomorkanal, but the general public is not well informed about the place’s history that is significantly important but not widely promoted as it doesn’t support the national spirit.

But there are things that apparently do, such as erection of monuments to Vladimir the Great or Ivan the Terrible in Moscow last year, which provoked great public resonance because of its ambiguity. The choice of prototypes also alludes to officially declared governmental values, for sure, but doubtfully for the benefit of them. Could these monuments become heritage with these values behind? In this case, value is used, so to speak, not for definition of the object, but for an excuse for existence, which is particularly strange.

The most interesting part here is that even UNESCO was against the monument of Vladimir the Great for the same reason it was against the building of the bridge in Dresden Elbe Valley [4] – it could threaten the view of already inscribed site. The erection started in a buffer zone without an agreement with UNESCO [5], but later was somehow agreed upon. In comparison with Dresden Elbe Valley it is really hard to say now if the bridge or Vladimir the Great was a real threat for the landscape.

Vladimir the Great in front of Kremlin – Tatyana Belyakova/TASS (

As a result of that, we can say that all actions in the field of heritage are determined by the values which are suggested by official policy. Here I want to give one more example – The Holy trinity Church in the Fields , which is located right next to the former Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the USSR in Moscow. The Church was build in XV century and was a place of “judicial fights“ [6] – every civil doubt could be easily solved in a fight in front of it. The main feature of the place is its diversity – the building was rebuilt and restored many times. About 18th century, the building of the Moscow Craftsman’s Board was established behind the church; then, its functions was changed in 1935 and became a military collegium. Exactly at that time, the church was demolished according to an official policy of “Red Line“, which also, we can call as an indicator of values in the national heritage context. Also, collegium was called as “the Execution House” [7]. It was condemned 47. 549 people, 31,456 of which were subsequently shot during the period of 1935 – 1950. It was an ironical coincidence that the place still kept its judicial character. With losing its functions, building received new options for its reusing. Therefore, it nowadays is functioned as a storage.

I think that the examples of Belomorkanal, the Holy Trinity Church in the Fields and Military Collegium of the Supreme court of USSR represent the lack of qualitative conservation approach as the places are not reconstructed or used in accordance with the goals of preserving the memory. Here, the Church area is a bit fenced, as well as, there is no information about it. So, many people don’t even pay attention to the remains.

All actions on all levels of work with heritage depend on specific conditions provided by the site location. Unfortunately, when we are talking about regional sites, we should keep in mind that small cities can’t be so well supported and never have the adequate promotion. It means that we have main touristic points like the Golden Ring, the plenty of regional museums, and the small historical sites which can hardly survive. Even with good initiative in many cases, managers don’t have enough budgets for the sites’ promotion and the implementation of management and conservation plans. So, obviously, we have to find new sources of financial support for the site managers.

From my point of view, it is nice to note that more and more private museums emerge these days such as the tradition of patronage which has been gaining popularity in Russia along the last decade. On the other hand, there is also an example of management, without governmental financial support and the stakeholders’ power in the form of local community initiatives. Two best examples here are Museum Perm-36 and the town of Myshkin. Touristic infrastructure of the whole Myshkin was created by its community which established the museums of vodka, felt boots and different crafts. The locals even invented a story about the main city hero – the Mouse (“Mouse“ in Russian is in tune with the city name). Therefore, citizens created the city image, and developed its cultural and touristic sectors on their own.

Experience economy of Myshkin in action (Blog:
House of Mouse in Myshkin (

Another example is sadder. The Museum Perm-36 was located on the territory of a former jail for political prisoners. Restoration works were held during the 1990s, and in 2004 it was included in “World Monuments Watch” [8], but unsuccessfully – because of the wide public reaction and disapproval of government the Museum had to declare an end to business and existence [9]. The museum was an evidence of Stalin’s actions and policy. People`s attitude testifies to the lack of assessment of the past. Huge part of the Russian society, thanks to public policy, is hardly aware of the Great Purge. Many of them believe that political prisoners were (and still are) guilty and don`t deserve any memory.

Perm-36. Shot from the official movie of Sergey Kachkin (

So, I think that the main problems of interaction and work with heritage in Russia are concluded in false experience of interacting with the memory and the blurred values which are different either for the government or the local community. As long as, it’s deemed appropriate to pay attention on the historical truth and to promote the contrived values which seem fake for the people, there will not be qualitative approaches and successful examples of work in the field of heritage in any country.


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