Ukraine at the Museum Europäischer Kulturen

Museum Europäischer Kulturen

The staff at the Museum Europäischer Kulturen (MEK, Museum of European Cultures) in Berlin is deeply shocked by the war in Ukraine that Russia has unleashed in violation of international law. This belligerent destruction is inflicting untold personal suffering on the local population. Their country is being torn from their grasp and with it their collective and individual cultural memory, which has also been shaped by museums.

This war is the tentative low point in the post-Cold War relationship between these two neighbouring states. One portent of this development was Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in 2014. This act, also a violation of international law, met with comparatively little response in the public perception of the Western world. That has not been the case at the MEK.

The museum owns some 1,200 objects of 19th century everyday culture and popular art, representing diverse social groups and regions of modern-day Ukraine. The largest proportion by far stems from the Crimean Tatars of the Crimean Peninsula on the Black Sea. Until the annexation, the MEK collaborated closely with scholars, museum colleagues and artists from Crimea. These relationships, however, ended abruptly with Russia’s invasion and have remained on hold ever since because of the Crimean Tatars’ politically precarious situation.

The annexation of Crimea prompted the MEK to develop and install a new, small-format exhibition that successively juxtaposes current political and social topics with the museum’s collection. The first of these Motion Detector exhibitions was titled What Do the Crimean Tatars Have to Do with the Museum of Europäischer Kulturen? It pertained to the historical and current fate of the Crimean Tatars in Russia, the Soviet Union and Ukraine.

Something similar will now happen again at the Museum Europäischer Kulturen. In addition, it would make sense to help our museum colleagues in Ukraine safeguard their collections now and rebuild their museums later – and to use the MEK collection as a basis for long-term collaboration to create on-site exhibitions that promote self-awareness in Ukraine as well as public understanding in Germany.