Sunday, 24 April 2022

Conflict Archaeology and Commemoration

On his Archaeologik blog, Prof Rainer Schreg has a post about the sinking on April 21st 2022 of a Russian warship in the Black Sea 80 km from Odessa ('8 Tage alt: Die Moskva, das jüngste Archäologische Denkmal' 24.04.2022). On April 21, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense reported via its social media channels that the wreck of the Moskva was protected as an underwater monument "8 days after leaving the 'living culture'...". The story was subsequently reported by several media. The Moskva was a ship the Russian Federation took great pride in this vessel and its singking by Ukrainian missiles shot from the land is a great embarrassment, as a result, Russian puublic opinion has not been appraised of all the facts (including how many lives were lost). As Prof. Shreg points out (and Andy Brockman also noted earlier), some elements of the story about this "Unterwasserdenkmal Moskva" are questionable, such as the reference to the UNESCO Convention for the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage, which assumes that the object in question has been under water for 100 years. He also notes that the claimed transfer to the Naval Museum and the Ukraine's implied ownership claim to the wreck also does not comply with international maritime law.

It seems that the main aim of this action is as an elemet of the incredibly sophisticated, modern and effective information war that Ukraine is conducting. It is a heavy-handed reminder to the Russians (whose own information strategy seems not to have advanced much from that of the 19980s/90s) that it is historians who will judge what happened in this part of Europe from 24th February 2022, and from what we can see emerging about the effects of this unprovoked and revanchist agression, it will be widely condemned by future generations, and totally blog out any reflected glory the Russian Federation claims for the victories of its predecessor the Soviet Union over the axis troops in 1944 and 1945. Here Shreg makes the point that in light of conflicting accounts of the cause of the sinking, preserving the wreck in its current form will help establish what really did happen to the ship for that historical record. The author also raises a point that has been worrying a number of us:
Gerade der propagandistische Kontext der Eintragung der Moskva als Kulturdenkmal der Ukraine zeigt, wie bei Objekten einer Archäologie der Moderne oder gar der Gegenwart nicht so sehr der wissenschaftliche Erkenntnisgewinn, sondern eher der Denkmalcharakter bzw. genauer seine Mahn- und Erinnerungswert von Bedeutung sind.
One slight addition, The Moskva seems to have been the ship that challenged the Snake Island defenders on the first day of the War and received the answer (as he translates it): "Russisches Kriegsschiff, f** dich...!". As far as I understand it (and I claim no great specialist knowledge of swearing in Polish or Ukrainian), it seems to me that the injunction is better translated as “go and f*** yourselves” (or maybe “go and get f***ed”) – the verb “to go” is very clear – and it is that which makes it more “prophetic”. The ship sailed on into the War and got... well, sunk.

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