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Heritage is one of the victims of conflict

By: Frank Howarth, Category: Museullaneous, Date: 31 Oct 2011

A few weeks ago I was standing in the ruins of Stari Bar, or the old town of Bar, in Montenegro. Its an eerie but beautiful place on the coast of Montenegro.

Stari Bar, Montenegro, September 2011 #1

 © Australian Museum

It’s been settled at least since Roman times and has been destroyed and rebuilt several times. It was most recently destroyed by the Montenegrins in 1878 as part of the battle to re-gain Montenegro from the Turks, and has not been rebuilt this time.

The significance of this destruction was strong in my mind having just come from Dubrovnik, which has been extensively rebuilt following very deliberate shelling by the Serbs in the 1990’s. It’s now in such apparently pristine condition that it looks like a film set.

Why is it that we humans have such a good track record of deliberate destruction of built heritage as part of our wars, large and small? And it’s not just “those” people who do this. The British fire bombing of Dresden in WW2 is not that long ago.

I guess there are many explanations for such destruction. Perhaps we need stronger international conventions to try and limit this, in the way we have many other conventions around war and conflict. It seems to me that there is a case for the crime of cultural genocide (wrong term I know, but you get the idea). Here’s hoping....