Paris Prepares for Flood; Views on War and Culture, and More


Paris museums located near the river Seine are on flood alert. As Le Monde's Emmanuel de Roux reports, studies show that a “hundred-year” flood could hit the city, raising the Seine to levels last seen in 1910.

Museums in the danger zone include the Louvre, the Musée d'Orsay, the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, and the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, as well as the Musée Carnavalet in the Marais. Other important cultural institutions—including the Arsenal library—could also be affected.

After major floods damaged museums in Dresden and Prague last summer, Paris is taking no chances. Following the example of the municipal police, which had already developed an emergency plan last December, the minister of culture, Jean-Jacques Aillagon, is expected to announce an evacuation plan at a press conference later this week.

Some institutions have already begun to move works to safer locales. The Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris was forced to empty its reserves and archives—leaving only the works currently on display for the public.

At the Louvre, where eight thousand square meters are located underground, reserves are being moved to depots in the northeast of the city while some of the galleries in the upper floors of the museum—such as the Campana—have been closed to the public and transformed into shelters for both works and conservation equipment.

But current measures may not be enough. Extremely high flood waters—like those experienced in 1910—could even flow into the ground floors of the Louvre, inundating the Sphinx, Greek, Egyptian, and Islamic exhibition halls. Louvre head Henri Loyrette has developed an emergency evacuation plan that would see works in these galleries moved to safety within seventy-two hours.

Even if the prophecy of a hundred-year flood does not come to pass, the costs for all museal institutions are already mounting, as conservation and research is disrupted. “These reserves are not dead places,” explained Loyrette to Le Monde. “They are regularly frequented by researchers and participate fully in the scholarly life of the museum.”


Kasimir Malevich is being honored in Germany and France with exhibitions at the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin and the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. Le Monde's Geneviève Breerette takes in both shows and adds a history of the estate—in particular, the works collected at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.

As Breerette reports, both exhibitions rely heavily on the Stedelijk Museum, which recently added the Khardjiev foundation to its own impressive holdings acquired in 1956–57. Nicolai Khardjiev (1903–1996), once a curator at Moscow's Mayakovsky Museum, attempted to publish Malevich's work, but his research—and his growing collection of works—found mixed support from the communist state.

In the wake of perestroika, Khardjiev finally gained recognition for his efforts—some speculate, too late. In 1993, claiming he feared the Russian mafia, the collector left with his collection for Amsterdam and, before his death in 1996, set up a foundation there.

Shortly after this, a scandal erupted in Amsterdam when the foundation's administrators tried to sell part of the collection to the Gmurzinska gallery in Cologne. Finally, in 2000, the foundation, under new administration, sent its holdings—in all 1,672 works, including 172 works by Malevich—to the Stedelijk Museum for a long-term loan.

In an interview with Breerette, Rudi Fuchs, director of the Stedelijk for the last ten years, reflects upon the museum's Malevich holdings, now the largest in the world. While manuscripts could be sent back to Russia some day, Fuchs has no imminent plans to return the Khardjiev collection. “When we showed it at the museum in 1997–98,” explains Fuchs to Breerette, “the Russian minister of culture came. He had the same fears [as Khardjiev] and was happy that the collection is safe with us. We made a complete photocopy of the collection, which we have made available to Russian researchers.”

Taking a closer look at the show in Berlin, the Tageszeitung's Christian Semler considers the “cosmic dimensions” behind Malevich's enthusiasm for purity, while Libération's Elisabeth Lebovici describes the “concentration of energy” in the works on display in Paris: “The world of Malevich is in a permanent state of agitation.” Given the threat of floods in Paris, Malevich's works might very well find themselves on the move again.


In Britain, cultural secretary Tessa Jowell has given the go-ahead for an antiwar demonstration that will take place this weekend in London's Hyde Park. As The Guardian's Jamie Wilson reports, Jowell initially banned the demonstration against war with Iraq, claiming that the demonstrators—who are expected to number five hundred thousand—could damage the grass. To the satisfaction of demonstration organizers, Jowell was forced to reverse her decision after failing to find an alternative space in the city.

In Germany, discussion of war is taking a philosophical turn. In the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Armin Adam claims that the current crisis has reversed Clausewitz's belief that all wars are politically motived. “One should ask onself,” proposes Adam, “if it's not the other way around: The political motives often initially gain force and plausibility through technological possibilities. No war without at the same time a profile of its weapons.”

The Frankfurter Rundschau's Martina Meister reports on a discussion about violence held last week at the Einstein Forum in Potsdam, just outside of Berlin. The speakers—theorists Tzvetan Todorov and Jan Philipp Reemtsma—seemed to agree that violence cannot be easily grasped through notions of rationality and irrationality. While Reemtsma argued the moral categories of good and evil themselves drive wars, Todorov claimed that moral grounds can make some into soldiers and others into humanitarian helpers and rescuers.

Finally, Die Zeit asks, “Can the United States wage a private war against Iraq?” The question was put to thinkers from around the world, including prominent American intellectuals. The philosopher Richard Rorty portrays President Bush as a prisoner of his own rhetoric. “If Bush doesn't fulfill his threat,” writes Rorty, “he will have a hard time explaining to the American voters why he sent over all these troops.”

Theorist Judith Butler takes a strong position against not only the war but also American journalist Michael Ignatieff, who claims that “soft imperialism” is the best that one can hope from the United States. “With his compromise solution,” writes Butler, “he seems reasonable and pragmatic, which is why he can be heard everywhere in the European and American media while the voices of the peace movement can hardly get through.”


While the US and the UN attempt to reach a resolution on the war against Iraq, France's president, Jacques Chirac, has called for an international agreement to protect cultural diversity around the world.

According to a report in Le Monde, at the International Meeting of Professional Organizations for Culture, which was held in Paris from February 2 to 4, Chirac proposed that UNESCO should adopt “an international convention on cultural diversity” as early as 2005.

The aim of the convention? To recognize and protect the “equal dignity” of all cultures, especially in the face of economic pressures of globalization. “Culture should not bend to commerce,” affirmed Chirac to the three hundred conference participants, who work in the cultural sector and came to Paris from thirty-five countries around the world.

Since France is “the cultural exception,” protecting its culture against market forces, Chirac's proposal comes as no surprise. In 1998, France withdrew from the Multilateral Investment Agreement, which sought to establish international rules for foreign investment. Their withdrawal, as well as international protests, effectively brought the negotiations to a standstill.

“There are borders that globalization doesn't have the right to abolish,” reaffirmed Chirac in his speech, as reported in Le Monde. “These borders are what allows us to move from one culture to the other. It's on the territory of spirit that peace and the destiny of nations plays itself out.”