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Mikhail Piotrovskiy: We need to be careful. Every wrong step can lead to a catastrophe

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Mikhail Piotrovskiy, director of the State Hermitage: “It is a horrible tragedy. Just horrible. The nightmare of every museum director and all those who protect monuments. Because the biggest risk in our lives is fires. Thank God that the monument survived. It is a genuinely terrible tragedy. We recalled how Troitsky Cathedral was burning here in St. Petersburg several years ago. It was very scary too. The church in Kondopoga which burned earlier this year. And how the Zimniy Palace burned down overnight in 1837.

History shows how fragile the world is. The most famous monument in Paris is at the brink of extinction – in the heart of Europe. All this says that everything is very fragile – and that one wrong movement can lead to a collapse. And it’s not only about culture and monuments. It relates to everything. One wrong move or a word – and a war breaks out. And a war can lead to millions of monuments like Notre Dam being destroyed. I think that this was a sign for us, to a certain extent. That we should take a pause and think. Because we are taking things we see on TV too lightly. It was interesting at first in Paris – everyone watched it burn. And then they started praying – once they realized the scale of what was happening.

There will be lots of discussion now. Some say it has to be fully restored and that the glory of France is on the cards. Others point to the Venice Charter which says that things lost cannot be restored. It needs a professional expertise which has to be supported by the French government – because it has to make an ultimate decision. We have now realized the symbolism of those monuments. We forget about their value when they are intact. Now people realized that this is something sacred and has much more significance than just pleasing one’s eye.

Nothing is 100% safe, there are risks everywhere. The entire life of museums and cultural valuables is based on risk calculation. The best way to protect those is to shut everything down and not let anyone in. But we have to be careful. Every wrong move can lead to a catastrophe. And this relates to everything in the world”.

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