5th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center

Conflict and Cultural Destruction: Why Totalitarian Regimes Seek to Destroy Historical Memory

Evoking memory of the Nazi onslaught on cultural icons, the Taliban’s destruction of the Bamiyan statues and ISIS's pillaging of pre-Islamic sites has horrified contemporary observers and raised new concerns about the ways certain regimes seek to destroy historical memory. At the same time, new narratives of cultural persistence and survival are emerging, such as Romanian efforts in the Cold War to circumvent censorship through theatre, or contemporary ways to counter hardline censorship of Persian literature in Iran. This expert panel will analyze the causes and broader consequences of demolishing culture and heritage and the challenges it poses in today’s world. 

The panel will be followed by the opening of an art exhibition entitled “Last Folio: A Photographic Memory,” which documents books and buildings of cultural significance destroyed in Slovakia during the Holocaust. A short film documenting the origins of this exhibition will open the discussion at 4:30pm.

C-SPAN video coverage of the event is available here.


  • Cristina Bejan

    Founding Executive Director, Bucharest Inside the Beltway; Researcher, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum; Former East European Studies Title VIII Scholar, Wilson Center
  • Peter Black

    Historian and Consultant
  • Deborah Lehr

    Chair & Founder, The Antiquities Coalition
  • Azar Nafisi

    Author of "Reading Lolita in Tehran" and "The Republic of Imagination"
  • Christian F. Ostermann

    Director, History and Public Policy Program; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
    Woodrow Wilson Center