The Power of Culture


Iraqi legacy: saving what is left to save

American troops must monitor the Iraqi borders better to prevent Iraqi cultural artefacts from being smuggled out of the country, according to Donny George, director of the National Museum in Baghdad, who spoke at a conference of international experts about the Iraqi cultural legacy. On 29 April experts met for the second time in London, at the initiative of Unesco and the British Museum. Curators of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, the Pergamon museum in Berlin, the Louvre in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the British Museum in London discussed how they could best help their colleagues in Iraq. At the beginning of May the experts will go to Iraq to assess the damage and draw up plans for restoration.

Museums in Baghdad, Mosul and other cities in Iraq were plundered last month. The National Museum, the largest archaeological museum in Baghdad and the most important museum in the Middle East, suffered the worst damage. The museum was a storehouse for objects from Babylonian, Assyrian, Persian and Islamic cultures, covering a history of thousands of years. The area that is now called Iraq is the cradle of our civilisation. Even before the outbreak of the war, a group of archaeologists called for these antiquities to be protected (see Current, March 2003).

The National Museum was spared during the bombing, but American soldiers were not able to keep out plunderers. In a brief time more than a hundred thousand sculptures, vases and other irreplaceable objects were stolen or destroyed. According to the art experts, organised crime was responsible for the first wave of plundering. The Iraqi National library was set on fire by plunderers and many priceless manuscripts were lost.

Immediately after the plundering, Unesco issued a call to monitor museums and cultural institutions. It also called for a ban on transport and trade in Iraqi cultural artefacts. Moreover, a database must be created as quickly as possible containing all the data regarding the Iraqi art heritage. This way art dealers and customs agents can check to see where an object came from.

Martin Sullivan, Bush’s most important cultural consultant, resigned in protest against American passivity.

More information:
Unesco and Iraq
Crisis in Iraq: Unesco culture sector, news, photos, links and faq
The threat to world heritage in Iraq
Baghdad Museum Project, virtual museum
The University of Chicago has started amassing an inventory of lost art treasures

Women’s film festival in Senegal

At the beginning of April, Senegal was host to the first edition of the women’s film festival Films-femmes-Afrique. With twenty films and a number of debates, the festival brought a number of ticklish questions up for discussion, such as the practice of marrying girls off, marrying girls off at too young an age and circumcision. There was a plea for better education for girls, a better position for women in society and for peace. The films submitted were made by both men and women. To attract as large a public as possible, all the showings were free.
The two institutions who organised the festival, Trait d'Union and Admica, received financial support from the Ministry of Culture, Unicef and Aide et Action (Aid and Action).

Competition for African comic books

The Italian magazine Africa e mediterraneo is conducting a competition for the best African comic book. The comic books must not have been published yet and the makers must be of African descent or must live in Africa. The winning authors are invited to attend an exposition about their work. The publisher of Africa e mediterraneo, Lai-Momo, handles special editions of the comic books and will place the winning work on the magazine’s web site.
Africa e mediterraneo began publication in 1992 and appears four times per year. Acknowledging the presence of large numbers of African migrants in Europe, the magazine wants to inform people about African issues and to contribute to knowledge about African cultures.

Largest lesson ever calls attention to education for girls

More than 1.3 million children from different continents and time zones participated in the largest class ever held on 9 April. The class now holds the world record for number of students. In so doing the participants called attention to the 115 million children, most of them girls, who receive no form of basic education whatsoever. A girl who has been to school is better able to protect her children and family against malnutrition and diseases such as HIV/AIDS. Education for girls combats poverty, according to UN secretary-general Kofi Anan.
The largest lesson ever was an initiative of the Global Campaign for Education (GCE), represented in the Netherlands by Novib, the General Education League and Plan Nederland. Thirty thousand children from 1000 schools participated in the Netherlands. Bangladesh had the largest number of participants: 450,000 children and adults throughout the entire country.

More information:
Kofi Anan’s address, news and photos from countries participating in the GCE
News and photos from the Netherlands at Novib
Education for All Week at Unesco

Meagre foreign language skills bad for cultural cross-pollination

In order to do business effectively with neighbouring countries, Dutch people must also be prepared to communicate with those countries in the future. This is the message presented in an open letter to parents of school-age children from the French and German ambassadors to the Netherlands. The two ambassadors are concerned about the level of the second modern language as currently taught in secondary schools. In their letter they appeal to parents to let school directors know that education about and in modern foreign languages is extremely important. "Commerce, trade and service provision are kept running in part through language skills", the ambassadors declare. In addition, they see languages as an instrument for developing and maintaining cultures: "(…) there is also such a thing as exchanging ideas among people, cultural cross-pollination across borders, personal contacts and friendship. And to accomplish this, our languages are necessary as a 'means of transportation'."

More information: The open letter from the ambassadors

"Government underestimates importance of ICT for development"

The government underestimates the importance of information and communication technology (ICT) for developing countries. There is no specific policy in this domain, according to Hivos director Manuela Monteiro, who also says that access to information is access to power.
Monteiro expressed her criticism while signing the new collaboration agreement between Hivos and the International Institute for Communication and Development (IICD). In the coming years, these organisations plan to collaborate both financially and in terms of the specifications for projects in Ecuador and Zambia.

More information: Hivos

Protest in Syria against Prince Claus prize-winner

He is regarded as the standard-bearer for freedom of speech and is extremely popular among his countrymen. Ali Ferzat’s cartoons are published by both the national Syrian press and foreign newspapers. Last year the Prince Claus Fund also decided that the work of the Syrian cartoonist creates space for 'social comments and discussion' and awarded him a prize. And yet, a group of Syrian citizens protested against Ferzat in April. The protests focussed primarily on his political cartoons about the Iraqi people and the Iraqi leader.
The campaign against the cartoonist was initiated by the Syrian national newspaper Tishreen. One of the demonstrators has since offered his apologies to Ferzat. The man said that he was incited by the national newspaper. Ali Ferzat himself believes that the government is looking for an excuse to shut down his newspaper, Al Doumari.

More information:
Report from the 2002 Prince Claus Awards Committee

Library for children in Ethiopia

On 5 April, EBCEF, the Ethiopian organisation for children’s books and education, opened the first Ethiopian children’s library.
According to the EBCEF, very few books are published in Ethiopia. There are hardly any children’s books. Children who come in contact with literature early on learn to think critically and creatively. Literature is important for a society in which democracy, peace and freedom are important values. These ideas are the motivation behind the EBCEF’s attempts to stimulate and support the reading and publication of children’s books. One way the organisation does this is to organise a book fair and a competition for the best Ethiopian children’s book each year.
Special programs with film, exhibitions, group reading, writing and drawing workshops and storytellers are designed to inform and inspire the visitors to the children’s book library.
More information:
Photos at EBCEF

Sources: NRC Handelsblad, het Parool, Trouw, de Volkskrant, Africa e mediterraneo,, Unesco, Global Campaign for education, Aob, Hivos, Novib, Plan Nederland, Prins Claus Fonds, EBCEF, IICD,


Aesthetics and engagement

The World Wide Video Festival’s twentieth anniversary

The World Wide Video Festival is celebrating its 20th anniversary with an international retrospective of media art. In addition, there is a one-man exhibition of works by the Brazilian artist Éder Santos and a special exhibition of media art from Peru/Argentina/Brazil. The Arabic media culture is represented with exhibitions of Walid Ra'ad and Mapping Sitting, about portrait photography in Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, Palestine and Jordan. Moreover, there are video presentations, Cd-Roms, net art, VJ culture and electronic music.
All this in the Amsterdam Passenger Terminal from 8 - 25 May.
See the festival web site for more information:

You can find more exhibitions, cultural events and gatherings in 'World in action', the schedule on the International Collaboration web site.


may 2003