Hermitage director: Our task is to protect culture

Hermitage director: Our task is to protect culture
Photograph: Ilya under a CC licence

11 November 2014

Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of St Petersburg’s State Hermitage Museum, has urged for cultural links between the US and Russia to remain strong, despite the state of museum relations between both countries “worse today than during the Cold War”.

“For two years now, there have been no museum exchanges between the US and Russia, however this isn’t directly related to current political relations,” Piotrovsky told RIA Novosti yesterday.

Piotrovsky, who has been director of the Hermitage Museum since 1990, noted that on the Russian side, art cannot be taken to the US due to Washington being unable to guarantee at an executive level that the artworks can be returned. In particular, Piotrovsky referred to the Schneerson Collection, a collection of precious Jewish books currently at the centre of a legal battle between the US and Russia, with a US court ruling the texts should remain in a Washington library and not return to the Moscow from where the collection was originally loaned.

“We do our best to fix what politicians do — both ours and those in the US,” Piotrovsky said.

Responding to a question about whether culture has the potential to ameliorate Russian-American relations, Piotrovsky said: “It is not up to culture to help anything. Culture is vital. Everything that happens in the economic and political spheres is nonsense compared with culture.”

He added: “Our task is to protect culture. If there is no culture, then nothing can be helped. Culture is a bridge, and this bridge must be the very last thing to be destroyed.”

Since the start of the Ukraine crisis, a number of art exhibitions have fallen victim to funding constraints and political tensions as a result of worsening diplomatic relations between Russia and the west.