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Baltics trial UNESCO's protecting culture during wartime workshop

St. Nicholas' Church in Tallinn.
St. Nicholas' Church in Tallinn. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

A new UNESCO workshop focusing on crisis preparedness in the culture sector during armed conflict was piloted in Tallinn this week and attended by civil and military personnel from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

The main purpose of the three-day workshop developed by UNESCO is to equip military and civilian personnel with legal knowledge concerning the protection of cultural property during wartime.

It outlines the implementation of the 1954 Hague Convention and the preservation and protection of cultural property by the military. Estonia agreed to pilot it. 

"The training was the first step to provide basic knowledge and practical planning skills to protect objects under state protection, to prevent damage or theft, and to record cultural values that have already been destroyed," said Lieutenant Colonel Gert Treu, chief of CIMIC branch of the Estonian Defense Forces.

"The aim was and is to make the defense forces aware of the importance of protecting cultural heritage in wartime and to promote cooperation with civilian structures."

The first two days of the course, which ended on Thursday (January 11), were primarily aimed at active and reserve soldiers in the field of civil-military cooperation.

The UNESCO workshop on culture sector crisis preparedness was piloted in Tallinn in January 2024. Source: ltn Liis Vaksmann

On the third day, a visit to St Nicholas Church in the Old Town of Tallinn, a cultural property that was heavily bombed in 1944, was organized to discuss a case study about artwork evacuation.

The visit was followed by a roundtable, where best practices, notably in terms of protection of cultural property and legislative measures, were shared.  

While today there is an urgent need to provide training in Ukraine, the course is meant to serve as a tool for all UNESCO's Member States. The course is generic and could be used by any armed forces to train their Cultural Property Protection specialist officers.  

The Tallinn workshop was organized by UNESCO in collaboration with the Estonian Defence Forces, the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Culture, and the National Heritage Board.

The 1954 Hague Convention and its Protocols are major instruments for maintaining and building peace. Their main objective is to protect heritage while preventing the outbreak of conflicts, the escalation of hostilities and facilitating peace mediation during conflicts and post- conflict rehabilitation and reconciliation.

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Editor: Helen Wright

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