Apr 152016


On this date in 1935 a number of nations signed The Treaty on the Protection of Artistic and Scientific Institutions and Historic Monuments, commonly called the Roerich Pact. The most important component of the Roerich Pact is the legal recognition that the defense of cultural objects is more important than the use or destruction of that culture for military purposes, and the protection of culture always has precedence over any military necessity. The pact was the brainchild of Russian painter and philosopher Nicholas Roerich. This date is also now celebrated in various nations as the Universal Day of Culture, the World League of Culture, and the World Day of Culture.  The aims of the celebration are all the same, namely, to emphasize the value of diverse cultures, and to protect them against the ravages of war.


Nicholas Roerich was born on October 9, 1874, in St. Petersburg. His parents encouraged him to study law, but seeing their son’s interest in painting, they allowed him to study both. In 1900, Roerich went to Paris to take lessons from Fernand Cormon, teacher of Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec. Upon his return to St. Petersburg, he married Helena Shaposhnikova, who later developed the Agni Yoga philosophy.  Ultimately Roerich became a successful painter; one of his paintings was purchased by Russian Tsar Nicolas II. Roerich also worked as stage and costume designer for several operas and ballets by Maurice Maeterlinck and Igor Stravinsky, premiered in St. Petersburg.

Roerich formulated the idea of protecting cultural objects from the devastation caused by war and other modernist forces in 1899. During his excavations at Saint-Petersburg province, he began to point to necessity of preserving ancient artifacts, because they help preserve long dead worldviews.

In 1903, Roerich together with his wife, toured 40 ancient Russian cities, including Yaroslavl, Kostroma, Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Vladimir, Suzdal, Yuriev-Polsky, Smolensk, Vilna (Lithuanian city, briefly part of Russian Empire), Izborsk, Pskov. In 1904 he visited Uglich, Kalyazin, Kashin, Tver. During this travel Roerich created a series of architectural studies – around 90 paintings of the sites he visited. Later many Russian churches were destroyed by revolutionary forces and these paintings remain the only record of them.


After his travels Roerich gave a report to the Emperor’s Russian Archeologist Society about the sad state of historical monuments and the need to take prompt action to protect them. During the Russo-Japanese war (1904–1905) Roerich again emphasized the need for a special to protect institutions and cultural monuments from war.

In 1914, Roerich appealed to the high command of the Russian army, as well as the governments of the USA and France, with the idea of formulating an international agreement aimed at the protection of cultural values during armed conflicts. He created a poster “Enemy of Mankind” denouncing the barbaric destruction of cultural monuments, and the image “Glow” as a protest against World War I.

In 1929, Roerich, in cooperation with G.G. Shklyaver, a doctor of international law and political sciences from Paris University prepared a draft resolution of an international pact for the protection of cultures. The scheme was to be a cultural analog of the Red Cross’s medical neutrality. Simultaneously Roerich proposed a distinctive sign to identify the objects that are in need of protection, which is now called the Banner of Peace. It consists of a white background with a red circle and three red circles inscribed in it. This banner has been displayed in prominent places – including the North and South Poles, and the Mir space station.

rp6 rp7

In 1930 the text of a draft agreement accompanied with Roerich’s appeal to governments and peoples of all countries was published in newspapers and distributed to governmental, scientific, artistic and educational institutions around the world. As a result, committees supporting the Pact were established in many countries. The draft pact was approved by Committee for Museum affairs at League of Nations and also by the Committee of the Pan-American Union. Ultimately, the Pact was signed by 21 states in the Americas and was ratified by 10 of them.


A few years after the Second World War, the Roerich Pact played an important role in forming international law standards and public activity in the field of protection of cultural heritage. In 1949, at the 4th session of general UNESCO conference, a decision was accepted to begin the work of international law regulation in the field of cultural heritage protection in case of armed conflict.

Needless to say, the ideals far outstrip the reality. The Pact was in effect when Allied and Axis powers bombed countless historic sites around the world. Money and power have a way of trumping cultural interests. One of the tenets of the Pact is that nations should strive to spend more on cultural institutions – art, music, theater etc – than on weaponry. Rotsa ruck with that !!

In October 2003, The Roerich pact was extended to include the protection of non-material cultural heritage, which was accepted by the 32nd session of the General U.N. Conference on Education, Science and Culture.  The UNESCO World Heritage List is well known to most, but there is also another list, the Intangible Cultural Heritage list intended to safeguard non-tangible items such as music and dance. In this list there is a growing number of entries related to food and food culture. On the list are French and Mexican cuisine and the Mediterranean diet. These are rather too general, I would say, to qualify as my recipe of the day, but you can make coq au vin, tacos, or pasta primavera if you wish.  However, licitars (Croatian gingerbread hearts) are also on the list. I recommend going to Zagreb if you want to try them, but you can make a simulacrum if you want to. You’ll find a serviceable recipe here:


However, you won’t produce anything like the real thing. Licitars are colorfully decorated biscuits made of sweet honey dough that are part of Croatia’s cultural heritage and a traditional symbol of Zagreb. They are used as an ornamental gift, often given at celebrations of love such as weddings and St. Valentine’s Day. At Christmas time, the city of Zagreb and the Christmas tree in the main square in particular are festooned with thousands of licitar hearts.


The tradition of making and giving Licitars goes back to the 16th century. Licitar makers, known as Medičari, were highly regarded in society, and their Licitars very much sought after – much more sentimental than giving a bouquet of roses, for example. Even today the tradition is kept alive by a select few who shroud the art in family secrecy, and claim their methods of production have scarcely changed. One licitar still takes over a month to make.

Licitars became famous due to their being sold at the Marian shrine of Marija Bistrica (in Zagorje near Zagreb) where pilgrims journeyed for the Assumption or St Margaret’s Day. Although not a religious symbol, licitars were often bought by pilgrims to take home as a reminder of their long and sometimes arduous journey to Zagorje. Licitars’ simple shape and attractive color and decorations were a common souvenir to show family and friends when they returned.

Licitars are also known in neighboring Slovenia. The oldest licitar workshops can be found in Slovenj Gradec (established in 1757) and in Radovljica (established in 1766). Both workshops are still producing licitar today and the one in Radovljica is open to tourists.

Licitars are made using traditional ingredients and methods. Their ingredients are simple (honey, flour, eggs, water and natural colors) but their preparation is long. The dough matures for a few days, then is shaped and baked and left for two weeks to dry. Coloring is the next step after which they are left to dry again for two weeks. Once dry, the licitars are finally decorated and again left to dry for a week.

Traditionally Licitars are 100% handmade, decorated with a swirling outline, small flowers and a small mirror. Being made of honey dough and natural products licitars are edible, but few people actually eat them. Licitars are often referred to as “gingerbread,” though they do not actually contain ginger.


 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>



This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.