World Heritage in the Russian Arctic

Discussion issues by Mr Pavel Filin, Ph.D.(Ethnol.), Ms Tamara Semenova, Russian Research Institute for Cultural and Natural Heritage named after D.Likhachev

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Analysis of the problems on the heritage preservation in the Russian Arctic with the reference to the work of the Heritage Institute in Moscow.

The announcement of the International Polar Year (2007-2008) provided a good opportunity for thorough estimation of efforts made with respect to Arctic heritage protection. Russia as a signatory to the World Heritage Convention, along with the other Arctic countries, pledges to conserve not only the World Heritage sites situated on its territory, but also to protect its national heritage. The Russian Research Institute for Cultural and Natural Heritage has been established after the first nomination of the World Heritage Site in Russia (Solovetsky Monastery Complex) and since this joint nomination initiated by the Soviet Culture Foundation and the Russian Academy of Sciences has been instrumental in heritage research.

Strategic planning for heritage preservation in Russia is based on the following principles:

  1. Recognition of the fundamental role of heritage in identity building and sustainable development. Heritage is perceived as a broad category incorporating both tangible and intangible monuments of history, culture and nature, along with living culture, traditional values and knowledge, crafts and techniques, land use, natural and ethno-cultural environments. Heritage research is based on a systematic approach where individual items and particular properties cannot be studied and preserved except in the integrity and interconnection with the environment.
  2. Heritage preservation is ensured through a territorial approach where territory is a subject of particular attention and special protection aimed at the preservation of multifunctional heritage items along with the existing cultural practices, traditional land use systems and historic settlements.
  3. Heritage recognition, enhancement and use comprise an organic part of the contemporary cultural, social and economic processes.

Based on the theoretical concepts of noosphere by Vladimir Vernadsky, and of cultural ecology by Dmitry Likhachev, the Heritage Institute elaborates new approaches to the heritage preservation, including:
- genetic (heritage as a carrier of the historic memory, ensuring national culture and regional identity);
- ecological (heritage as a basis for sustainable development of the society and biosphere);
- geographical (heritage as a source for cultural and natural diversity conservation).

The constructive role of heritage to safeguard the favorable (desirable) human environment shall be reflected in the relevant management practices and policies. Spatial research and conceptualisation of the cultural landscape as an integral manifestation of the cultural and natural heritage sites is of principal importance. Elaboration of the comprehensive programs at national, regional and local levels is necessary to ensure heritage enhancement and use in the process of social and economic development.

Better protection of the cultural heritage of the Russian Federation could be achieved by revealing the historic-cultural and natural skeleton of the country’s heritage and by establishing a system for the protection of natural areas and cultural sites. The resulting network will include the historic towns, rural settlements, monasteries and their lands, manors and surrounding gentry estates, historic battlefields, industrial and memorial sites and monuments, archaeological complexes, ethnic and indigenous sacred sites and traditional land use areas, historic routes and roads, and other heritage sites. Mapping of these sites is an on-going process in the form of the National Atlas initiated and compiled by the Heritage Institute. Cultural landscapes are important units in the heritage mapping conceptualisation, and are seriously taken into account at the regional and local mapping scale.

In the Arctic zone the Heritage Institute has the longest period of its field research. Since 1986, activities of the Integrated Arctic Marine Expedition (IMAE) guided by Professor Petr Boyarsky have been organised under the national Institute of Cultural Science and The World Ocean Center. After establishment of the Heritage Institute in 1992, the IMAE is able to continue research of the Arctic seas, islands and coasts with the funding from the Russian Academy of Sciences, Polar Research Foundation and other governmental, public and private institutions. The expedition comprises multi-year comprehensive research by archaeologists, historians, architects, sociologists, geographers, oceanologists, hydrologists, glaciologists, radiologists, physicists from the former Soviet Union, Russia and foreign countries. International teams with participation of divers and cameramen have been working in summer and autumn seasons in 1995, 1998 and 2000. In 1989 the expedition presented the idea on establishing a system of internationally protected circumpolar historic and cultural areas in the land and seas – so-called the “Arctic Ring”. The first protected territory with the relevant establishment now under consideration in the RF Ministry of Natural Resources is the “Russkaya Arktika” National Park.

In its practical research work IMAE uses the working definition of the Arctic zone, by incorporating into the circumpolar regions territories with the similar extreme natural and social conditions. Based on this experience, the Heritage Institute suggests to expand the Arctic heritage consideration beyond the Arctic Circle (60 N latitude) to the south and use the southernmost border according to the Arctic Human Development Report, prepared by the Arctic Council in 2004. In this broader understanding the Heritage Institute has initiated and taken part in the projects of the Arctic protected areas:
– The Russian Arctic National Park (the Barents Sea, part of the Novaya Zemlya Archipelago, Frantz-JosefLand, Victoria Island); – Green Belt of Fennoscandia (nature reserves in Murmansk region and Karelia);
– Regional natural ethnic park of Beringia (Chukotka);
– Vaigach Island as an Indigenous Sacred Site (Nenets autonomous region);
– Pustozersk city as an Archaeological and Cultural Reserve (Arkhangelsk region).

Inventorying work in the Arctic by the Heritage Institute covers the following fields of observation and research: archaeological monuments, historical and cultural towns and settlements; traditional centers of craft and industry; memorial houses and polar stations; historical roads and sea routes; polar exploration, historic and industrial monuments, ethnic settlements and traditional land use areas, indigenous sacred sites. In many of the specific sites all these items of heritage are represented simultaneously, for example, in the island of Vaigach, located to the south of the Novaya Zemlya Archipelago, the following properties were investigated:
– Geological structures of the Ural Mountains north extension;
– Natural objects and landscapes;
– Co-existence and overlapping since ancient times of the two traditional cultures - Pomor and Nenets people.

This work enabled the registration and description of more than 250 historical and cultural monuments, including
– neolithic objects of the ancient human history;
– sacred sites of the Nenets people;
– medieval Pomor’s crosses, camp sites and burial places;
– historical places of later polar expeditions;
– GULAG labour camp and prison infrastructure;
– unique landscapes and natural objects.

All these monuments represent an integrated natural and cultural complex within the island territory, interconnected with the adjacent marine area, so in the tentative nominations these qualities are necessarily be taken into consideration for further research and heritage preservation and management. The latter is ensured through the existing national legislation, which can serve as a basis for the future museums and protected areas establishment. All discovered sites are included into the Russian National Strategy on the Establishment of the Remarkable Sites, elaborated by the Institute since 2000.

The integrated protection of the natural and cultural sites as proposed by the Heritage Institute could be ensured via two legal forms: museum-reserves (referring mostly cultural sites) and national parks (referring mostly cultural landscapes). While the latter form is well elaborated and adequately applied by the national environmental protection legislation, the former one is still under development and existing museum-reserves lack a sound legal protection from the state. Meanwhile, conservation measures in the Arctic require a strong system of integrated protection, and this means that establishment of the subsequent cultural sites in Russia would involve wider consultations with external expertise and inclusive practice of international research. Revision of the tentative lists of the Arctic heritage is an adequate measure in this sense and will foster the comparative and cooperative studies, such as those proposed within the scientific frameworks for serial and transnational nomination of the Viking and Pomor Culture, Saami Cultural Heritage and Sacred Sites.

The Heritage Institute has been a pioneer in investigation of the heritage of the Solovetsky Archipelago, nominated a first Russian World Heritage cultural site. The other existing cultural site is the Kizhi Pogost, also an outstanding architectural ensemble in the Russian North, in the proximity to Barents region. Later, during the monitoring mission by international experts in 1998, the idea of re-nomination of Solovki site, adding rich wildlife and exceptional cultural landscapes to its description, was positively discussed, but eventually not accepted due to complexity of the existing legal and management problems. Almost ten years later, management problems still exist in the local and regional economy, and particularly, in self-governance at Solovki; there are also many discrepancies in the coordination of the protection measures at the regional and national levels. Positive consequences of the Solovki inscription include:
- more attention given to the problems of heritage preservation in general;
- open discussion of heritage issues with external experts;
- wider involvement of the different stakeholders (including commercial firms, benefactors, foundations, NGOs etc.);
- testing of the World Heritage Site preservation and management model in Russia;
- increased funding from the State for restoration of heritage objects.

At the same time a number of negative tendencies in the Solovetsky site can be observed: fragile natural ecosystems are put under pressure from the increased tourism, pilgrimages and their infrastructure; heritage sites and objects are subject to rapid commodification; instead of the traditional activities in the subsistence and rural life, new trends in the local economy, like spontaneous tourist services, are on the increase, resulting in subsequent degradation of the cultural landscapes. This is evidence of a serious disruption of communication between the different agencies responsible for the natural and cultural monuments, and lack of interest and support in uniting these efforts. In addition to coordination, there are problems in heritage recognition by the State, an example of this is the Lena Delta tentative nomination as a natural property that has been recently rejected at the last stage of its consideration.

In addition to the Komi Virgin Forest in the Russian Arctic, it is the only natural World Heritage site to represent arctic tundra ecosystems. Wrangel Island, inscribed in 2004, is also a state nature reserve, the northernmost scientific polar research base with the turbulent and dramatic history. Named after polar explorer Baron von Wrangel, who in 1820, after hearing stories of distant land from indigenous Chukchi tribes set off on a discovery expedition with no success, the island has subsequently been visited by British (1849), American (1879, 1881), Russian (1911) and Canadian (1914) expeditions. Names of famous people, such as naturialst John Muir, polar explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson, indigenous Inuk Ada Blackjack and Russian Geogry Ushakov are all inscribed in the survival and research island history. Since 1926 there have been both success stories and tragic events with the cases of extortion and exile in late 1930s and prisoners of war during and after World War II.

On the positive side, the Soviet state established a polar station, settled Eskimos from Chukotka (1926), organized two permanent settlements with infrastructure and a state farm (sovkhoz), introduced domestic reindeer (1948) and musk oxes (1975), organized the protection of walruses (1953), animal and bird preserve (1968) and established a strictly protected area encompassing the adjacent Herald Island (1976) with a 12-mile sea zone (1997), later expanded to a 24-mile zone (1999). The state nature reserve had a permanent staff, regular supplies and round the year air transportation, all this provided the excellent basis for background natural monitoring, continuous ecosystem research and wildlife observations until the transition period of 1990s, when the policy of subsidies and supplies in the Russian North abruptly came to a stop and the socio-economic situation has undergone radical changes. The nature reserve office and population of the island were evacuated to Schmidt Cape (1998) and town of Pevek in Chukotka (2001). Fortunately, the nature reserve has not lost the capacity for research, both monitoring and observations have continued in the form of seasonal expeditions and field studies. These institutional tasks have been ably assisted by international organisations and support of the environmental governmental services from Canada and the USA. In 2004 the shipping of vital supplies for constructions, infrastructure and research has been restored. Assistance in the shipping is being organised through Western ecotourist companies and Murmansk seafaring company.

However, the present state of the nature reserve base and equipment cannot be considered as satisfactory due to the rapid changes in the environment, in particular in the polar regions. It is evident that climate warming in the Arctic will lead to serious social and economic changes with the increased traffic along the Northern Sea Route. Both positive and negative impacts of this change raise the question of a heritage impact assessment in order to be prepared for the future and have mitigation instruments. In addition, requirements of research in the Arctic, in particular, during the International Polar Year, are very high and the scientific activity of the reserve is equally challenging. Providing the adequate infrastructure for the integrated studies and monitoring at the Wrangel Island is an important task today. This unique evolutionary testing site of nature, preserving the traces of indigneous paleocultures, presenting abundant and diverse plant and animal world survived during the Ice Age and in post-glacial period, keeping ample evidence of human explorations and contemporary history, deserves a special attention. The inscription to the World Heritage List is one of the measures aimed at positively changing this situation. Further actions will include large-scale support to the organisation in terms of comprehensive scientific research, improvements to the reserve base, infrastructure and equipment, wider participation of the reserve staff in project partnerships with international teams from the other Arctic states.

Rapid environmental changes and adaptations to various transformations in nature and society can be studied only at diverse and representative model sites of adequate area. In this sense Russia is one of the states with the most extensive Arctic territories and could provide a large network of relevant sites. This is reflected in the Tentative List submitted by the Russian Federation for the Arctic region. Within the border, indicated in the Arctic Human Development Report, there are 8 proposed heritage sites; their prior analysis reveals that all these sites have both cultural and natural values. The mismanagement or segregation of these values will result in the destruction of heritage at future protected territories and sites. That’s why we strongly support the activity of the World Heritage Center and other organisations to elaborate the criteria for nomination and by this action ensure better protection of the heritage and its environment.
Russia’s tentative list includes the following natural and cultural nominations in the Arctic:
– Krasnoyarsk Stolby (06/03/2007 natural);
– Nature Park "Lena Pillars" (11/07/2006 natural);
– The Putorana plateau (Putoransky State Nature Reserve, 07/02/2005 natural)Magadansky State Nature Reserve (07/02/2005 natural);
– The Commander Islands (Comandorsky State Nature Reserve, 07/02/2005 natural)
– Historic center of the Yenisseisk (20/07/2000 cultural);
– The National Park of Vodlozero (15/05/1996 natural);
– The Valamo archipelago (15/05/1996 cultural).

Although the tentative list has been recently updated, and the region includes in addition many other areas with different levels of protection, further efforts would be advisable for more complete representation of the unique Arctic heritage. Some categories of heritage sites are still absent and await their recognition at the national level: for example, there are neither archaeological sites, nor nominated indigenous sacred sites, sites of polar explorations or scientific tests are missing, recent historic and social events not represented, and no particular geological formation or phenomenon has been singled out. For better investigation and description of such different sites in the field research the Heritage Institute uses the following practices: – comprehensive description and research by the integrated expeditions, where all layers of history (including Soviet period) and aspects of the heritage of the territory are studied; different specialists are active and cooperate during field studies; – research are focused on cultural landscapes as the reflection of the integrity and functional interaction of cultural and natural values and elements;
– every project on heritage preservation becomes a component of the wider socio-economic programs and sustainable development in the region;
– heritage preservation projects are coordinated with all stakeholders, including authorities, public organisations and, first of all, with people on the land (directly or via their organisations or representatives).

These practices provide opportunities for regional and local authorities to incorporate the proposed heritage sites into the development programs, for local activists and communities to become involved in heritage conservation and protection activities, and for site administration to stimulate integrated management of the natural and cultural sites. In addition, it would be appropriate to remind everybody here that as the cultural and natural nominations from the state are prepared separately and by different agencies, it is highly recommendable to encourage all national stakeholders to share experiences about the preparation of nominations and cooperate for the better reflection and presentation of the existing heritage.

One of the examples of the continued involvement of the public into the process of the discussion on global heritage importance is the recent appeal to the presidents of Russia and Sakha Republic on the potential danger to the environment in relation with the planned construction of the Eastern Siberia - Pacific Ocean pipeline in the Olyokminsk district. In the letter, signed by 12 environmental NGOs, among other construction consequences there is mentioned an immediate threat to the fragile ecosystems of the district and the territory of the National natural park “Lena Pillars”, where unique natural diversity and model paleontology and archaeology samples have been publicised in the nomination process of the future World Heritage Site.

The general situation with the Arctic heritage well reflects the main collisions and experiences on the region’s exploration and development. Nevertheless, these experiences leave the ground for hope that the Arctic will serve a model region for the integrated cultural and natural heritage protection and cooperation between the contemporary technological progress and ancient indigenous cultures. Wider involvement of various communities in the Arctic heritage nomination processes subsequently will ensure better preservation and management of the relevant World Heritage sites.
Authors would like to express their gratitude to the participants of the International Expert Meeting on World Heritage and the Arctic in Narvik, Norway and highly acknowledge the financial and logistic support provided by the Nordic World Heritage Foundation, UNESCO World Heritage Center and the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation for the Environment.