Ukraine war shows the need to digitize our cultural history with NFTs before it’s too late.

We have the technology to protect and preserve our precious cultural heritage for generations to come.
To make our shared culture preservable, we need to make it shareable, and NFTs give us this ability.

In times of war, it is not only people who get caught in the crossfire. The shared history of entire civilisations does, too.

Items held in museums, from paintings to artefacts and sculptures, allow us to see ourselves through the lens of history. As Russian bombs continue to tear through Ukraine, it is time to use the technology we have to protect and preserve cultural artefacts as much as possible.

By using the cryptographic technology that supports NFTs, we can turn cultural artefacts into digital collector’s items that can be observed, shared and enjoyed for generations to come.

There is a reason invading armies tend to single out a nation’s culture – it shapes who we are and how we view ourselves. Take it away and you undermine our sense of self, even our right to be. Take enough away and it is easier to absorb and remake what remains.

Virtually every dictator has tried to smother their opponent’s uniqueness, with the Mongols taking the idea to new depths when they destroyed thousands of years of history and culture in their assault on Baghdad. As the legend goes, they threw so many books into the Euphrates that a soldier was able to cross the river on horseback.

The Nazis ransacked Europe’s museums and galleries during World War II. In Libya, historical sites were vandalised, looted and destroyed. The Taliban used high explosives to eradicate virtually every trace of the statues of Buddha at Bamiyan in Afghanistan.

Statues of Buddha at Bamiyan in AfghanistanTaliban eradicated priceless history.

We’re seeing it happen once again during the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Kuindzhi Art Museum in Mariupol, a site dedicated to one of the country’s most important painters, was devastated by a Russian bombardment. Much of the work of celebrated Ukrainian artist Maria Prymachenko was burned in an attack on Ivankiv in an immense and irreplaceable loss to the nation.

It is hard for me not to take this personally. Growing up in Syria, I spent much of my childhood in the National Museum of Damascus, home to one of the world’s greatest collections of cultural artefacts.

This beautiful museum was threatened during the civil war. The contents only survived because its curators scattered it to secret locations to keep it safe. If they hadn’t, the loss to Syria and the world would have been devastating.

At present, the only way to engage with cultural artefacts is through museums and galleries. However, in wartime, these become tempting targets and a veritable supermarket for thieves taking advantage of the chaos.

Today, the only truly safe place to preserve our cultural heritage is online. To make our shared culture preservable, we need to make it shareable, and NFTs give us this ability. As well as a technology that creates a secure provenance and indestructible proof of ownership, they also offer the chance to create a digital alter ego of every artwork, cultural site and artefact in the world.

This way, their power will remain and be protected digitally even if they are lost, ensuring at least part of them survives. This is something that every culture should get behind because every culture has suffered from it. Japan’s Honjo Masamune sword is lost and presumed destroyed; Egypt’s Pyramid of Menkaure was damaged by dynamite; the Jules Rimet trophy was stolen and is presumed melted down for gold; the treasures of the Incas were looted and lost; the list goes on and on.

Imagine if you could examine the original Amber Room in the Catherine Palace, one of the greatest lost treasures, just as it was before the Nazis removed every panel, never to be seen again.

Is this Japan’s Honjo Masamune sword?
Egypt’s Pyramid of Menkaure
The Queen presents the Jules Rimet trophy to England winning captain Bobby Moore weeks after the trophy was safely recovered.
Amber Room in the Catherine Palace

NFTs alone will not preserve culture, but their ability to transform cultural heirlooms into collectible, ownable items can. An NFT issued by a respected gallery would provide a necessary safety raft for museums and researchers. They could make our shared history accessible to a generation of digital natives.

That is why the governments and private individuals lucky enough to own them should digitally preserve versions of their most prized cultural artefacts. Once we see serious collectors, governments, galleries and museums getting on board, the momentum to continue will build. With ordinary people buying these NFTs instead of an elite class of patrons supporting centralized repositories, regular people will become the custodians of our shared history.

This choice has to happen soon. Who knows where and when the next major cultural loss will be. A year or two ago, I doubt many would have predicted Ukraine.

Editor’s Note: Hussein Hallak is the founder and CEO of Next Decentrum. His excerpt article was published in on 4 May 2022.

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Published: 5 May 2022.

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