Authenticity and Integrity in Post Conflict Heritage Sites

By Amy Ward

What is authenticity and integrity?

Authenticity can be seen as the true representation of a place and its associated culture and values. ‘The Nara Document on Authenticity’ states that “the respect due to all cultures requires that heritage properties must be considered and judged within the cultural contexts to which they belong” (ICOMOS, 1994). Therefore, there can be no single method for assessing value and authenticity; which immediately complicates the notion of retaining authenticity in relation to cultural property post-disaster, due to the often-varying cultures found within the same areas. Similarly, integrity focusses on the tangible and intangible values of a place and culture that make up its identity, which in relation to post-conflict scenarios can be extremely difficult, with conflict often affecting culture and value as well as tangible heritage.

When discussing the effectiveness of retaining authenticity and integrity, UNESCO describes how the World Heritage Site of Warsaw encompasses “all of the characteristic features defining its identity”. The listing also describes how Warsaw “has fully retained its authenticity as a finished concept of post-war reconstruction” by retaining any surviving buildings and comprehensively reconstructing its heritage (UNESCO, n.d.). But what about the wider intangible culture and values, have these been retained?

Robert Bevan discusses the importance of cultural values in his work ‘The Destruction of Memory – Architecture at War’ (2006), by using the example of the destruction of the Stari Most bridge in Mostar in 1994 during the Bosnian war. He describes how the residents of the city who had been in hiding and fearing for their lives, had come out of hiding to see their ruined bridge; It had been “a symbol of the city” and a central meeting place of the people. (Bevan, 2006, p. 25). Bevan cites Slavenka Drakulic (Bevan, 2006, p. 26), a journalist who in response to the destruction of the Stari Most bridge asked the question “Why do we feel more pain looking at the image of the destroyed bridge than the image of the massacred people?” She observes the intangible values associated with the bridge:

“Perhaps because we see our own mortality in the collapse of the bridge. We expect people to die; we count on our own lives to end. The destruction of a monument to civilisation is something else. The bridge in all its beauty and grace was built to outlive us; it was an attempt to grasp eternity. It transcends our individual destiny. A dead woman is one of us – but the bridge is all of us forever.”

Both Bevan and Drakulic highlight the integrity a place can hold to its people. The bridge was a tangible landmark in the city, but also held intangible value to the residents, it had been part of their associated culture. It is examples such as this that should first be understood before any kind of reconstruction can begin.


The Martyred Village

The case of Oradour-Sur-Glane is extremely interesting when considering post- conflict heritage. Although not a World Heritage Site, it was adopted by the people of France as the martyred village, after the devastation of the Second World War, and as such, shows a rather unique example of a Country’s response to mass devastation. The village suffered the mass murdering of almost all of its inhabitants and was then set on fire by German SS troops shortly after D-Day. It has since become “the standard against which suffering was measured” (Farmer, 2000, p. 55) during the Second World War for France. The village was left in its ruined state as an open-air museum and a memorial, although a small amount of conservation in the form of consolidation was carried out, along with the intentional staging of emotive objects found on site. The memorial has for the most part been a success, being one of the “most visited memorial centres in the country” (Chrisafis, 2013).

Importantly for French-German relations the German President Joachum Gauck visited the site in 2013 with French President Francois Hollande. The two presidents, along with a survivor of the massacre, ended the emotional visit “in a three-way embrace” (Gathmann, 2013). In this respect, the village is obviously still a very important memorial to the people of France, and indeed the rest of Europe, however, the site is not without its complications. During the forming of the village as a memorial there was some criticism, with people seeing it as a political objective, trying to establish the village as a “national symbol” (Farmer, 2000, p. 81), with not much consideration for the surviving inhabitants of the village, who later saw the anniversary as a “political exploitation of their emotional suffering” (Farmer, 2000, p. 176).

Sarah Farmer goes on to explore the effects of creating the memorial, describing how the new town was constructed too close to the old, acting as a constant reminder but also prolonging the pain for the inhabitants. The villagers wore black for two and a half years after the massacre (Farmer, 2000, p. 182) and even the first generation not to have known those who died still “suffered from the sorrow and pain of their parents and from the sadness of their families.” (Farmer, 2000, p. 184). Farmer goes on to talk about the national response to the village, quoting author Jacques Delarue (Farmer, 2000, p. 57) who also wrote about the war. Delarue states:

“this attitude, in isolating the crime from its general context, that is to say the wave of crimes that surrounded it, the long succession of murders, assassinations, arson, and destruction, which this account has tried to construct, has caused one to forget all these other crimes and made of Oradour an exceptional event, an involuntary excess due to the war”

What Farmer is exploring here is the fact that the village is now a monument to one terrible event in one village in France, and therefore the devastation seen here is often viewed as a one-off, potentially diluting the overall devastation that had engulfed the entire country. Farmer successfully highlights the complexity of post-war reconstruction, considering the immediate residents, the wider population and even political influences involved. Although Oradour-Sur-Glane is not a World Heritage Site, nor had it been considered as particularly culturally or historically significant before the Second World War, it is an interesting example of one approach to post-disaster reconstruction and how the regaining of order sought by governments in such times can influence how heritage property is used as well as conserved.


The Historic Centre of Warsaw

During the Second World War, Warsaw too was almost completely destroyed and again the political influence on its future was great. However, much in contrast to the small village of Oradour-Sur-Glane, the city of Warsaw was completely reconstructed. “Historicist reconstruction had understandable popular appeal as a symbol of national defiance” (Sandbu, 2015) after all Poland had been torn apart by Germany and the Soviet Union, and later Adolf Hitler had attempted to completely destroy the city to further suppress the people of Poland. By the end of the war, it is estimated that 90% (McCouat, 2015) of Warsaw’s buildings had been damaged or destroyed, its reconstruction would have been seen as a triumph to the people of Poland after an almost unfathomable amount of oppression, suffering and devastation. UNESCO inscribed Warsaw as a World Heritage Site in 1980, and as described earlier, it was considered to have been extremely successful in not only its reconstruction but also its retention of authenticity.

However, the reconstruction of Warsaw was tied up in a mix of politics and the collective resilience and enthusiasm of the Polish people. In fact, shortly after the war, it was considered by the Polish authorities whether the city should be rebuilt at all. One idea was to abandon the ruins of the city and build a new capital elsewhere (Gebert, 1998), but the people of Warsaw returned to their ruined city and began the huge task of clearing rubble whilst attempting to regain some kind of normality. People from all around Poland offered their support to their capital, the people of Poland were coming together to retain and rebuild their culture and heritage. It was eventually decided by the new communist controlled government that the historic city would be reconstructed, not to its pre-war appearance, but to that of its “so called ‘golden age’ in the 1760s and 1770s” (McCouat, 2015), with the rest of the city being built in a modern and functional style. To aid in the funding of their plans, the Polish government formed the ‘Social Fund for the Rebuilding of the Capital’, and donations and workers came from all over Poland to help with the project (Gliński, 2015). It must also be noted that property, particularly within the old town of Warsaw, was nationalised, leaving property owners with no collateral. Gliński observes that “many historians observed that without it, the rebuilding of the capital on this scale wouldn’t have been possible.” (Gliński, 2015)

It is evident that Poland was in a very unsecure place for a number of years prior to its reconstruction, and the driving force coming out of the war was a new Soviet government which with Boleslaw Beirut had an infamous ‘Six-Year Plan’ to “create the strong and invincible foundations of a new social order in Poland, the foundations of socialism” (Beruit, 1950). Their aim, to rebuild a replica of the old town of Warsaw, with seemingly little interest in the existing culture, authenticity or integrity. The result appears to be just that. Indeed, the rebuilding of the old town was successful in its mimicking of Bernardo Bellotto’s paintings, on which the reconstruction was largely based. However, it was heavily controlled by government decisions, and as such “churches were reconstructed, but not synagogues” (Gebert, 1998) for example. Poland was a wounded country dealing with a destroyed capital city, a new political regime, strong remnants of Nazi antisemitism, all the while, trying to regain its integrity, heritage and culture.

Another useful comparison to draw when considering rebuilding post-disaster is that of Beirut. Ilona Ilma Ilyes describes the rebuilt city of Beirut as a “rootless zone of empty luxury stores and unoccupied apartments. Rebuilt as a destination for international money and tourists, it is no longer the heart of Beirut” (Ilyes, 2015). It is a difficult model for anyone to accept when faced with the prospect of your hometown or city being completely flattened to make room for new, especially, I can only imagine, after the harrowing experience of war.

However in contrast, since its reconstruction, the people of Warsaw have become proud of their rebuilt city. The Polish tourism website in its description of an exhibition on the destruction and reconstruction of the Royal Castle in Warsaw, state that they are “honoured” to be listed as a World Heritage Site (Polish Tourism Organisation, n.d.), they talk very proudly of their resilience and determination. And who can question that pride? It really proves that the conflict and devastation suffered by the people of Warsaw has become a part of their culture, history and heritage and as such begs the question: is Warsaw indeed an authentic example of post-war resilience and reconstruction because of their determination to rebuild what they had lost?

In stark contrast, it appears that the native population of Beirut feel that they have lost the integrity of their city. Ammar Azzouz explains that “far more buildings were demolished during the reconstruction than had been destroyed during the civil war” (Azzouz, 2017) and as such high importance has been placed on the remaining sites within the city. An example of this is the ‘Saving The Egg’ campaign, which focusses on an unfished cinema complex that is seen as one of the last surviving cultural heritage monuments left within the new build city, “heritage activists protest against the further demolition of Beirut‘s built cultural heritage. It‘s the idea of being true to one’s own identity” (Springer, 2013). This brutalist, unfinished cinema complex would likely never have been seen as a monument to cultural heritage, if the people of Beirut still felt the existence of their culture and heritage in their native city. It is a sad example of a failed post-conflict reconstruction.


Why you can’t turn back time:

Once a place has been devastated by conflict, there is no way of turning back time to erase the scars without the authenticity and integrity of the place suffering to a certain extent. The conflict becomes part of the heritage of a place and although in most circumstances creating a martyred village, or place is not the way forward (i.e. Oradour-Sur-Glane), neither is completely changing a place almost beyond recognition (i.e. Beirut). It is interesting that when considering the rebuilt city of Warsaw, Varsovians are proud to tell the story of their Bellotto imagined old town (Mersom, 2016), it has become a part of their culture and heritage, although one may ask what became of their history and heritage post Bellotto and pre Nazi/Soviet occupation. Although as previously discussed, when a city is 90% destroyed how can one retain the authenticity? It may be that in these circumstances integrity must be the one to prevail, with focus on regaining or retaining culture and intangible heritage in the absence of surviving tangible heritage. 

Effects of conflict on people and why heritage matters:

In times of conflict and the mass destruction of one’s home, rebuilding a life is not simply the physical rebuilding of homes and amenities. Humanity places great value in their heritage, their culture and their identity in the form of place, i.e. the Stari Most bridge, Mostar. Regaining the community and rebuilding culture are essential for places to recover from disaster and conserving the heritage of a place is essential to doing this. It is the job of the decision makers to therefore balance the need for economic growth with that of the needs of the people, and in direct correlation the need to retain cultural heritage.

There is no one correct way to deal with this delicate matter, and as shown, the residents of affected places often react differently depending on the wider situation at hand. The people of Oradour-Sur-Glane felt their suffering was being exploited. The people of Beirut feel as though they have had their culture and heritage, tangible and intangible in this instance, stolen away from them. Whereas the people of Warsaw feel pride in the great task they undertook in rebuilding their city. All of these examples have varying outcomes and are viewed in different ways, and this is because each situation was different, with different stakeholders and approaches. When it comes to the safeguarding of our heritage it would be impossible to create a plan in which all stakeholders will be pleased with the result, there are too many variables. As such it is important that we consider the tangible monuments, buildings and townscapes that are considered to be important to our local and international heritage, and balance that with the intangible cultural heritage that is associated with them.

What do we have in place currently?

Documents such as the Nara Document on Authenticity (ICOMOS, 1994) certainly help us to understand authenticity, however in a broad and overarching sense. Looking more specifically at post-disaster documentation ICOMOS also recently released their guide on Post-Trauma Recovery and Reconstruction (ICOMOS, 2017) which covers many of the issues considered in the case studies. These include the recognition of intangible heritage, the importance of “incorporating the input of affected local, national and international stakeholders” and the development of a Master Plan for such times (ICOMOS, 2017). This has been a much needed addition to sit alongside documents such as the Venice Charter (ICOMOS, 1964) on the conservation and restoration of monuments and sites.

In most past cases however, a plan is put in place as a result of conflict. As Peter G. Stone (Stone, 2013) has argued in the past, perhaps it is time that a framework is put in place that can be implemented at the point when a disaster or conflict strikes. We need to use documents such as The Hague Document (UNESCO, 1954), The Nara Document (ICOMOS, 1994), The Venice Charter (ICOMOS, 1964) and so on, alongside more recent ideas and frameworks to enable a carefully thought out process of dealing with post-conflict reconstruction on a case to case basis. Keeping politics and economics in the frame, whilst focusing on integrity and authenticity.


Conclusion: What can we learn from the past?

There have been many recent studies on what we can learn from past conflict situations and the associated heritage. Recently the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies formed The Antiquities Coalition and published the works ‘Culture in Crisis: Preserving Cultural Heritage in Conflict Zones’ (The Antiquities Coalition, 2016) using case studies such as Bosnia and Herzegovina. Other works such as ‘Post-Conflict Heritage, Postcolonial Tourism (Winter, 2007) also explore past examples and what we can learn from them.

The overarching issues faced with integrity and authenticity in relation to post- conflict situations is that every scenario is different, often fraught with devastation, and often involving varying stakeholders. Additionally, due to the common issue of limited finances post-conflict, there can be limitations to what governments are able to put in place. With unstable post-war situations there are often underlying issues and agendas that play a part. In some circumstances whole cultures are affected, which in turn can affect the authenticity of a place, or the way in which authenticity is measured.

In conclusion, every situation must be viewed as an individual case. Authenticity is retained through tangible and intangible culture and heritage. We cannot simply re- build a replica and expect it to resonate with the people, as we saw in Beirut. If this scenario does resonate with some of the people, can it still be considered as a complete success, can it claim to have fully retained authenticity?

In both case studies, along with other mentioned examples, we have seen varying degrees of manipulation towards how reconstruction takes place. This factor is a major issue considering the balance between an overarching framework and the need to understand different culture’s ways of dealing with post-disaster reconstruction. There are indeed benefits and negative aspects to the management and plans put in place to deal with such events. They are often focussed more on economic growth than culture and heritage. However, they give a clear structure and budget for ease of rebuilding and there must be considered for economy as well as culture and heritage, as without the former, the latter would struggle to survive.We must continue to learn from past examples of post-conflict reconstruction of cultural property and the retention of tangible and intangible heritage through this process.





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