BSI: Looking back over 2020 and forward to this year’s 25th anniversary
For Blue Shield International (BSI), 2020 was a hugely challenging year, as indeed it was for the whole world. But, despite having to work largely online rather than face to face, most of Blue Shield’s projects went ahead, and much was achieved.
Photo: Professor Peter Stone, President of Blue Shield International
In August, during a virtual General Assembly, Peter Stone, BSI Vice President and UNESCO Chair for Cultural Property Protection (CPP) and Peace at Newcastle University, was elected to the position of President of BSI when Karl von Habsburg stepped down after more than ten years at the helm.
In the following clips, Peter shares his thoughts about BSI’s upcoming 25th anniversary celebrations and considers the other priorities for this year. He also recalls some of the successes and difficulties that BSI faced during 2020, and begins by reflecting on the devastating effect of COVID-19 on the global CPP and heritage sectors.
One of the major constraints last year was on travel, making relationship building with new partners and potential donors a virtual experience at best. As Peter explains doing the follow up with the International Committee of the Red Cross after signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with them in February, and signing a Letter of Intent with NATO later in the year posed challenges. In addition, BSI’s General Assembly (which is held every third year and which was scheduled to take place in Prague) had to be downsized, entailing a huge amount of work for BSI’s small Secretariat, which is funded by Newcastle University.
For all its challenges, 2020 saw some significant work for Blue shield as well. Blue Shield went into action within hours of the devastating explosion in Beirut on the 4th August. Karl von Habsburg (then President) went immediately to Lebanon, and together with the Lebanese National Committee of the Blue Shield and other organisations began assessing the destruction, and planning emergency repairs to damaged historic buildings, museums and archives. Peter followed soon afterwards. As Peter explains below, significant heritage protection work was conducted together with the Lebanese BS National Committee and a remarkable group of young volunteers. The work was made possible with funding from the Prince Claus Fund, ALIPH, The UK’s Cultural Protection Fund, and the Gerda Henkel Foundation.
Photo: Professor Peter Stone, Vice-President of BSI, supports CPP training for UNIFIL, Lebanon, August 2019. © Joe Farres
Blue Shield’s long-term work on CPP in Lebanon, which began in 2013 with the Directorate General of Antiquities (DGA), the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), paid huge dividends, creating a strong partnership for carrying out the work. The partnership was cemented during Peter’s visit when BSI signed an MoU for further CPP cooperation with UNIFIL, and its success was reflected in an award given to BSI by the Lebanese Armed Forces to thank them for their support.
Photo: Joanne Farchakh Bajjaly received LAF’s gift on behalf of BSI, presented by General Houyek Head of the Beirut Forward Emergency Response. © BSI
This video showcases the work of Blue Shield, and in particular the Lebanese National Committee of the Blue Shield, to carry out Emergency Response for Cultural Property following the explosion. The work was supported by and carried out in collaboration with Blue Shield Lebanon, Blue Shield International, Directorate-General Of Antiquities of Lebanon, IFLA, ICOM-Lebanon, ICOMOS-Lebanon, Lebanese Library Association, UNESCO Beirut Office, ICOM – University Museums and Collections, Biladi and UNIFIL. The work could not have been carried out without the generous financial support of the ALIPH Foundation, British Council Cultural Protection Fund and the Prince Claus Fund, to whom we are sincerely grateful.
Stone also reflected on the current work of Blue Shield International, in Nagorno-Karabakh, for example, as well as looking to the future.
BSI will celebrate its 25th anniversary on 6 June of this year. A number of events are planned, and a favourite Blue Shield photo campaign on social media is already underway. As Peter outlines below, one of the key events will hopefully be a reconvened face-to-face Extraordinary General Assembly in Prague from the 1-3 September, which will bring together Blue Shield International and the National Committees for training, and to plan the next 25 years.