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Comments on the Conference and the Riga Charter


ICCROM, Director
Heritage Settlements Programme

The Riga Charter

A modern day visitor to the capital cities of North Eastern Europe (the Baltics, Belarus. Ukraine) might well wonder at the number of brand new historic buildings suddenly in evidence. The curious visitor would soon learn that he or she was seeing evidence of the growing interest in reconstruction accompanying the rebirth of the region's republics, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Reconstructions have become politically popular in the region's search for symbols of newly reclaimed national identity, and as a means of re-instating losses due lo war or deliberately destructive cultural policies.

In the context of its regional training programme for urban conservation, ICCROM (The International Centre for the Study of the Restoration and Preservation of Cultural Property) sought to address this growing interest in reconstruction by bringing together the region's leading professionals and institutions to discuss the issue, and to identify guidelines clarifying under what circumstances reconstruction might be appropriate, if at all.

The resulting seminar, on "Authenticity and Historical Reconstruction in Relationship with Cultural Heritage", organised in collaboration with the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, the Latvian National Commission for UNESCO and the Latvian Department of Cultural Heritage Protection, was held in the World Heritage city of Riga, Latvia, October 23-24, 2000.

A total of 91 participants took part, including 6 international guests, and experts from Latvia (58), Estonia (5), Lithuania (12), Ukraine (5) and Belarus (5). The majority of the participants were planners or architects working at national or local levels, involved in administrative capacities within heritage agencies and/or the management of particular historic sites.

The seminar addressed many of the region's most sensitive reconstruction cases. In Riga, the reconstruction of the 17th century Blackhead's House has aroused consternation among conservation professionals, particularly given proposals to extend the reconstruction zone in ways which would further impair the integrity of the modern Town Hall Square in which it has been placed. In Vilnius, plans to reconstruct the Grand Duke's Palace (approved by the Lithuanian Parliament on Oct. IX, 2000) would encroach upon an early 19"'century Russian barracks. Also in Vilnius, plans to reconstruct a portion of the Jewish ghetto (also approved by the Lithuanian Parliament) have aroused fierce arguments among those who see the reconstruction as a meaningful gesture of postwar reconciliation, and those who see physical reconstruction as a merely superficial response to a political problem of a much greater order of magnitude. In Kiev, the skyline has begun to resonate again to the reconstructed spires and bell towers of an extraordinarily rich religious heritage, largely destroyed by the Soviet Union in the 1930s. All throughout the region, similar plans, founded in an emotional response to the perceived vicissitudes of the re cent past, are in place or are being realised.

The modern conservation world however has been very suspicious of the use of reconstruction to achieve conservation goals. Indeed the Operational Guidelines of the World Heritage Convention have suggested since the early 1980s that "reconstruction is only acceptable if it is carried out on the basis oj complete and detailed documentation on the original and to no extent on conjecture". This stricture was placed within the World Heritage procedures following the inscription of the post World War II reconstruction of the historic centre of Warsaw (Poland) on the World Heritage List. It was felt that while convincing arguments could be made in this case for the symbolic value of the reconstruction to the Jewish community, that inscription of such sites should in future be very much limited. The reluctance to accept reconstruction as a positive conservation action within the Committee has its roots in the conservation world's reverence for authenticity, for the belief that conservation interventions must strengthen the credibility and truth given witness by heritage objects and places to the heritage values they are understood to carry.

The main objective of the seminar was to develop a framework for analysis of reconstruction proposals, which could be used to guide local debates and ensure that reconstruction, when and if it occurred, would reflect widely held consensus about its appropriateness. The seminar was also designed to increase the awareness of decision-makers and politicians concerning the related issues of reconstruction and authenticity. The final result of discussion was contained within the Riga Charter on Authenticity and Historical Reconstruction, adopted by the participants at the end of the conference.

While it is too early to measure (lie importance of the Riga Charter, it is possible to identify the expectations and hopes that many have attached to its adoption. The charter underscores the essentially conservative nature of attitudes to reconstruction prevalent in the conservation world, consolidating the various conditions, which must be fulfilled before reconstruction, can be considered. And in particular, the charter notes the importance of ensuring that decisions to reconstruct reflect consensus among all citizens at all levels, "providing always that the need for reconstruction has been established trough full and open consultations among national and local authorities and the community concerned". This article, however modest, constitutes the key contribution made by the Riga meeting and its Charter to the reconstruction debate. Future evaluation of the effectiveness of the Charter will have to examine the impact of this article on decision-making, and the degree to which its appearance broadens site-specific debate about reconstruction options. While the Charter was written by and for those working in a particular region, (North Eastern Europe), future evaluation may also wish to look at the degree to which the Charter's articles are useful in addressing situations in other contexts and regions. Already there are early indications from Asia and Latin America of interest in using the Charter to help structure local debates.

And there will certainly be tests in years to come. Will the Charter for example, help guide decision-makers when in 20 years, reconstruction proposals begin to come forward from professionals in a post-'I'aliban Afghani regime?

Attention readers: If you have views on the relevance of the Riga Charter, or information on reconstruction case studies or proposals which you believe would enrich the debate, please write to Herb Stovel, al ICCROM: [email protected].


Director General, Board of Antiquities of Estonia

Estonia is pleased to inform you that the English version of the text has already been distributed to participants and that the-, Estonian version supplemented with short comments will shortly be published in the cultural weekly newspaper "Sirp".

UNESCO Estonian National Committee, National Heritage Board of Estonia, Cultural Heritage Department of the Tallinn City Council and ICOMOS Estonian National Committee have started preparations to organise an international conference in Tallinn in the year 2002 regarding new constructions in the World Heritage List areas. The development plan for Tallinn foresees the construction ol'about 40 new buildings to replace the houses destroyed in the WW 11. The outcome will have a significant impact on the whole preservation area as a World Heritage List site.

A, preparatory meeting to pinpoint the aspects of the conference will be held in Tallinn this autumn with participants from UNESCO, WH Nordic Office, cities of Riga, Vilnius and Visby and ITUC-ICCROM.