To have or not to have

It has been a long time since a Minister of Culture and his Director of Heritage (who now directs both Patrimoine and Musées de France) were so well educated and sensitive to heritage issues. According to the information at our disposal, it appears that they are both, personally, against all of the most critical projects currently being debated.
But what are they doing about it in a concrete way ? Nothing or in any case, not much, for risk of finding themselves in opposition to the President of the Republic, the other ministers, parliamentary members or local elected officials with a national reputation, especially if they are from the opposition party. Where are the ringing declarations on the plundering of the amphitheatre in Fréjus, led with the active participation of the previous administration, on the abandonment of the Hôtel de la Marine, on the vandalism planned for the Serres d’Auteil, on the attacks against the ZPPAUP, on the closing of the Musée de l’Assistance Publique, on the future of the chapel at the Laënnec Hospital ? The list is far from over.

Protecting historical monuments is increasingly more and more difficult because for it to succeed it requires the Ministry of Culture to play an essential role. Contrary to general belief, a listed historical monument can be vandalized or destroyed, have its immediate surroundings totally altered and a protected garden can be allotted for another purpose without the slightest obstacle. All that is needed is that the Ministry of Culture, under political pressure, accept the proposed project. This is currently the case. The recent vote in the Senate for the protection of furniture ensembles (see news item of 28/1/11) is, true, a step in the right direction, and of course exceptional given today’s atmosphere, but, besides the fact that this measure has not yet become law, we must point out that remarkable as it may seem, it originated precisely in the Senate and not at the Ministry of Culture as it should have.

Despite official statements, the Ministry of Culture has been considerably weakened by current reorganizations, from the unsupervised transformation of museums into independent public establishments to the establishment of the RGP [1] Much of the personnel at the Ministry of Culture, despite the fact that they are truly devoted to the cause of museums and heritage, is discouraged by these changes which make their work all the more difficult. They no longer have the support of their management and many civil servants in the regions feel they have been abandoned, left to the changing whims of local politicians whose interest in cultural heritage varies considerably, we might say, from one to the next…

What exactly is the Minister of Culture afraid of ? That he be asked to leave ? We would like to reassure him, no matter what happens, he will not be around anyway in a few months, or at the most, in a few years. For the moment, he – still - has the choice of leaving an imprint even if it means bowing out, at least he would do so meaningfully, or be forever forgotten.
France is (or was ?) a model in its heritage laws. But these will only work if the government is scrupulous in applying them. Alas, it stopped doing so many years ago.

Didier Rykner, mercredi 2 février 2011


[1] PRévision Générale des Politiques Publiques.

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