Museum Work in the Post-Communist Era
An ICOM Workshop Series involving members of the national committees of Russia, Belarus, and Germany under the aegis of ICOM-Europe

One and a half decades have passed since the peaceful revolutions in Central and Eastern Europe. In the wake of these changes, ICOM-Belarus, Germany and Russia (and the relevant institutes of culture and museum studies in these countries) conducted a workshop cycle to take stock of changes in museum work, to face the challenges to museums in the affected countries, and to start identifying problems to be solved. The workshop’s initial intent was to gather and exchange information and experiences among participants. At its first meeting in Moscow and Tver in April 2003, the workshop focused on regional museums in Russia. The second gathering in Minsk/Belarus, centered on different aspects of identity. In Berlin, in April 2004, participants discussed new conceptions of museums, memorials, and historic sites on former GDR territory. Panelists at each of the conferences hailed from each of the three national committees.

Many international participants found it quite informative to discover how Russians have considered and implemented a differentiated portrayal of twentieth-century history, one different in many ways than had previously existed. It was evident, however, that insecurities still exist in these times of upheaval; societies have not yet concluded their evaluations of their most recent past.

Participants were very impressed with the excellent work Belarus museums have done to elaborate new identities for a young state with long cultural traditions. Many expressed interest in the complex ways in which the societal situation sets boundaries to this work.

The distinctive task for institutions on former GDR territory is to deal with the history of National Socialism and state socialism on German soil. German museums have engaged intensively with the moral necessity of revealing the injustices of the past. The design of sites of victimization or perpetration is particularly challenging for historic sites and memorials. The uniquely German culture of memory was the focal point of a discussion among colleagues from each of the three countries – some perceived it as consistent and necessary, others thought it excessive and overdrawn.

Conversations about the current conceptual and organizational functions of museums helped participants understand different ways of thinking and acting. Since the meetings, these experiences have proved very helpful to individual institutions by creating a forum for museum professionals to reflect on their everyday activities. This is the most important contribution of these three workshops.

ICOM-Europe extended patronage support to this project from its planning through its execution phases because the workshop exemplifies the type of work ICOM-Europe has been eager to advance in Eastern European regions, beyond the new borders of the European Union. Eleven years ago the national committees of countries formerly behind the Iron Curtain came together to overcome their lengthy separation (Central European ICOM = CEICOM). In today’s times with new European realities, ICOM-Europe attaches great importance to dialogue among colleagues of states not part of the unification process on a political level. In this way, we prevent exclusion and encourage the common values of our work, even in its own national or regional specificity. ICOM-Europe’s patronage support proved fundamental to the creation of the workshop series.

The Presidents of each of the three ICOM national committees agreed to continue this successful dialogue under the auspices of ICOM-Europe.

Dr. Hans-Martin Hinz
President, ICOM-Europe