THE HISTORY OF THE ROERICH PACT MOVEMENT IN LATVIA
In 1929, a year after the ending of the Central Asian Expedition, Nicholas Roerich went to Georgi Shklyaver, a doctor of international rights, and a professor of political sciences at the University of Paris, with a request to develop the project for the Roerich Pact. As Nicholas Roerich said, “This was in order to encourage our own national moral prosperity, and the development of art and science for the well-being of the whole of mankind.”
“My idea about the saving of artistic and scientific achievements is based mainly on providing an international impulse for the saving of the most valuable things that enable us humans to live. We need to prevent the barbarity of the past war, where so many churches, museums, libraries and other valuable things - the works of the geniuses of mankind - were destroyed.” Mainly, the Pact is necessary during times of peace.
We know that prior to the founding of the Society, Felix Lukin visited Nicholas and George Roerich in Paris, following an invitation from them in the summer of 1930. We may never know what they talked about, but without doubt, one of the principal missions of the new society was to recognize the Roerich Pact and The Banner of Peace, as Roerich had brought these forward at that time.
The struggle in the early 1930’s to establish the Roerich Pact was coordinated by the New York Roerich Museum and the Cultural League. After 1935, each of these societies made independent moves towards this goal, being led, of course, by Nicholas Roerich. But prior to this, there had been conferences in Bruges, Belgium in the years 1931 and 1932, which would also be remembered by the Latvian Roerich Society.
Karlis Sture, who became the leader of the Society for a short time after Felix Lukin, turned to many Latvian institutions.
Officially, from May 1936, but unofficially from 1934, the Society was led by Rihards Rudzitis. Prior to this, his writings about the Roerich Pact appeared in the main Latvian newspapers and magazines. However, in 1935 the book, “Nicholas Roerich - Leader of Culture” was published, and this featured, as the main idea, The Roerich Pact. Now, the most difficult part of the Society’s struggle for the Pact would begin. The government could not succeed in passing the Pact.
Only now, after the relevant archived documents have become accessible, is it revealed that both the British and German governments had put pressure on the government of Latvia, through diplomatic channels, not to accept the Roerich Pact. Germany was preparing for war, the Nazis were growing stronger, and the Pact would be an obstacle. Great Britain was losing its former power and glory, and was fighting for influence in Tibet and Mongolia. Roerich, as he was well-known in the east, seemed to be a threat. Even the friendship between Agvan Dorjiev and Nicholas Roerich seemed to be a threat - Dorjiev and Roerich had, together, built a Buddhist temple in St. Petersburg. Roerich did not hide his thoughts about independent India.
It is surprising to see the amount of progress that was made by the Pact if we take a look at the documents that were linked to it. In two large volumes from the early 1930’s, without the documents being in their original language, there were 250 congratulations to the Roerich Pact and The Banner of Peace. These were from various organizations and famous people from all over the world, and as far distant as Argentina and New Zealand. This did not include Germany and France. Britain, in fact, refrained, and only Ireland participated.
After a series of failures, there was an attempt to try to unite the work of the Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian Roerich societies.
Many members of the Lithuanian Roerich Society took part in the struggle for the establishment of the Roerich Pact. Among them can be mentioned the artist, Petras Terabild. Foreign minister, Stasis Lazoraitis completely agreed with the aims of the Roerich Pact. Many events took place, and a book about the Roerich Pact, in Lithuanian, was published.
The importance of the Roerich Pact was recognized also in Estonia. Help came unexpectedly from the brother of president Konstantin Päts, the vice minister of arts and culture, Vladimir Päts. He created the Estonian Roerich Pact Commission, and, because of it, the Pact was supported by the most famous and best artists in Estonia.
In the spring of 1937, and initiated by the Latvian Roerich Society, it was decided to try combining the efforts of all three Baltic Roerich organizations. By April 1937, signatures had been collected from the most famous people in the field of culture in Latvia (for copies of these documents see below), and also from Lithuania and Estonia. Eighty signatures had been collected in Riga. Rihards Rudzitis wrote in his diary: “Artists and writers all signed the Pact; all truly embraced this ideal” (18.04.37).
The collective memorandum, with all the signatures, was presented for amendment at the Conference of Foreign Ministers of the Baltics, in Kaunas in 1937. The memorandum was rejected by the Latvian and Estonian delegates, and was accepted only by Lithuania. However, it was already a significant work, and it was included in the agenda and discussed. Nicholas Roerich wrote on 4th May 1937, “You managed to take a great step forward, giving it the attention of society, and getting it to hear its opinion. All in all, it is not important through which government peripeteia the Pact will travel. The key thing is that society has to accept it, and realize the importance of protecting its cultural heritage. Getting such public attention, and its thinking, will serve the development of society in general. From a more or less closed sphere you managed to reach a wide social arena.”
Rudzitis had understood this himself. On April 17th, he wrote in his diary: “If the memorandum had not been successful, at least the atmosphere has been stimulated; all the representatives of culture know that a Roerich exists, who stands or falls for culture.”
In October 1937, presentations about the Roerich Pact had been read during the Conference of Baltic Roerich Societies. Later presentations about this topic would become a tradition of our Society, and of all the Baltic Societies. For example, in 1999, when the 125th anniversary celebration of Nicholas Roerich’s birth was held, the anniversary celebration of the Roerich Pact was also held. In the Latvian National Museum of Art, an press conference was arranged at a high diplomatic level, where ambassadors, ministers, the representative of the UNESCO office of the Latvia Dace Neiburga, and a UNESCO representative from the United States participated. Speeches were given, not only by the Director of the Museum and a member of the Society, Janis Ziemelis, but also by the former president of Latvia, Vaira Vike-Freiberga (at that time the director of the Latvian Institute).
At the entrance to the Museum, large Banners of Peace were flown. Our flag flew over the whole city for a month: above the National Library, the Classic gymnasium, and The Small Guild. During this time, the renaming of a street to honor Nicholas Roerich took place. The street is located in the centre of the city, in the embassy district, and connects the embassy of Russia with the building where the Society was located on Elizabetes street.
For the purpose of the Roerich Pact, the Banner of Peace has to be flown at the protected sites. But, regrettably, the Hague Convention in 1954 chose a sign in the form of a shield, divided diagonally by blue and white triangles, and with a rhombus. Obviously, the sign accepted at the Convention is ineffective and is not being used as a flag. But the Hague Convention is based on principles of Roerich Pact.
For the Banner of Peace, Roerich chose a symbol that he was well acquainted with, one that he saw on holy stones on the Mongolian steppe, and on old churches in Europe - three connected circles forming a triangle, the symbol of evolution, all of which are surrounded by the circle of eternity.
Three connected circles - the union of all times: past, present and future. Nicholas Roerich said: “The past and the future do not rule each other out, but strengthen each other … the future inspires, and lends wings to us with its infinitude. How can we not love the future? Are we not passing through a beautiful gate to the achievements of the future?” The circles also represent the three parts of culture that cannot be separated: science, art, and its soul - philosophy, and ethics or religion. On the white background, the symbol of peace is shown in magenta or ruby red - the colour of compassion and courage. In the East, these are the colours of the heart.
“For us, the Banner of Peace is not only needed in times of war, but even more during everyday life, when the same kind of fatal mistakes can be made against culture, without the sound of cannons.”
(Honorary President of The Latvian Roerich Society)
Collected signatures from the most famous people in the field of culture in Latvia.
List of signers.