War and Culture

In a time where war has once again made its appearance it is impossible to believe that culture will stay unaffected. From loss of cultural identity to destruction of cultural heritage it must be said that war surely does strongly affect culture in every possible way. 

As a result of war migration rates have risen and the process of globalization is happening historically rapidly. This leads to traditions being integrated, transformed, or even lost while the lives of a multitude of people are completely changing. On that end, people’s relationships with the traditions and values of their culture are immediately affected as more and broader cultural implications find their way to the surface. It is an undeniable fact that in times of war indirect cultural changes do occur in countries where war hasn’t taken place as well, showing that war in one place of the world is not a problem just for the directly involved, instead it is and must be a problem of global concern.

The whole process of migration inevitably leads to loss of cultural identity. For this to be well understood it is important to comprehend the definition of the term. Identity is defined as the way in which individuals view their selves as unique from the rest, it is one’s distinct perception of self. Cultural identity, specifically, includes values and features that are common between people and bind them into a community, such as religion, traditions, and language.  War leads to people migrating far away from their homeland to assure their safety. In the host country they are in a position in which they need to assimilate and interact with different cultures leading to them becoming ‘multi-cultured’, which means they learn to identify with more than one culture. 
Although this cultural interaction should and could be a procedure with a positive side, it is with disappointment that many countries are not willing to interact with different cultures. Rather, they attempt culture and identity enforcement on refugees and asylum seekers. People leaving from a war zone where their human rights have been violated in every possible way seek to go someplace where they will have their human rights protected and respected and their culture integrated. This sadly is not always the case since governments have the power to pass laws and regulations that discourage the freedom of speech and religion in order to protect their own national, ethnic, and even settler-colonialist cultural identity. Using these methods host countries enforce their cultural identity on vulnerable people in need leaving them no choice but to gradually become assimilated, almost proselytized, in a ‘melting pot’ sense until they finally lose their actual cultural identity. 

While people are forced to leave their homeland and gradually lose their cultural identity they are also brutally detached from their cultural heritage and history. When leaving they are able to take only the most immediately necessary of their personal belongings, if anything. Everything else stays with them only in their memory. If they are ever able to return it is very doubtful, probably impossible, that they will find their cultural assets and memories untouched. After all, it is a war strategy for the invading country to ruin the cultural heritage of the rival country so as to cancel its existence in whole. In many cases, with Ukraine being the most recent one, people understand the importance of doing whatever they can to protect cultural assets during an invasion and have proactively proceeded to remove important exhibits and place them in safe places. Across Ukraine right now, gallerists and museum directors are desperately but carefully stashing away what they can of the country’s colossal cultural endowment. 

In the long run, not only does war destroy the economical and political state of a country, but on a deeper level, it forever taints society and reforms cultural identities. This process leads to the loss of the cultural diversity that enriches this world with the sharing of unique and interesting global perspectives.  To this end, Mahatma Gandhi’s saying that “No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive,” is worth noting as thoughtful global citizens.


Anna-Maria Antzoulidi
Trainee HICDB

Sandbags are piled high around a statue of the Duc de Richelieu in Odessa,

Ukraine, on March 14, 2022 in order to protect it. 



  • Max Bearak, Isabelle Khurshudyan, “All art must go underground:” Ukraine scrambles to shield its cultural heritage, The Washington Post, 14 March 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/03/14/ukraine-odessa-russia-war/?fbclid=IwAR1C9FftQ_loUBrEJ9cSnM1rqyOZ8amU5HE_rqp0a1RSIN30acukgQ9dbnE

    Claire Stocks (2007),Trauma theory and the singular self: rethinking extreme experiences in the light of cross cultural identity, Textual Practice, 21:1, 71-92, DOI: 10.1080/09502360601156971

  • Neal Ascherson (2007), Cultural Heritage In Postwar Recovery, Cultural destruction by war, and its impact on group identities, ICCROM, 17-25,