Archives as a pillar of state-building… Where does the Lebanese government stand in this regard?

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Posted on Aug 15 2022 by Mohammad Bazzi, Journalist 9 minutes read
Archives as a pillar of state-building… Where does the Lebanese government stand in this regard?
Adra Kandil
Lebanon has faced many crises since achieving independence in 1943, perhaps the worst of which have occurred in the last three years. These range from government crises and political blunder, to the collapse of the national currency and the loss of more than 85 percent of its value, leading to the loss of jobs and the closing down of many companies.

These crises prompted the Lebanese people to launch popular movements and an uprising against the governing authorities, which sparked street protests and led to violent confrontations with the security forces, but all these attempts failed to make any significant changes in the face of the authorities. These movements did not garner the full support of Lebanese society, and more than that, a large segment of the Lebanese population considered that these movements speeded up the breakdown of the State.

 

The outcome of the protest movements did not materialize until the parliamentary elections whose results surprised the Lebanese, as the independent candidates won a number of parliamentary seats at the expense of the parties in power. However, the breakthrough achieved by the change forces was not sufficient to bring about fundamental changes, which strengthened the adherence of a large number of citizens to traditional parties in spite of the crises they suffered.

 

October 14, 2021 witnessed the most notable event after the Beirut Port explosion on August 4, 2020. The events of that day rekindled the memory of the bloody scenes of the civil war fought between two adjacent areas (Tayouneh and Ain Al-Remmaneh), which were part of the green line during the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990), nearly resulted in disastrous consequences and recaptured the dark past.

 

These successive events prompt us to raise many questions, the most important of which are as follows: “Are the Lebanese rectifying their current situation and their future by knowing the facts about the past events? Did they learn lessons from them? What are archives about? What role do they play in solving crises? Do they help in building the State and its institutions?”

 

Political analyst Idris Yaqoub believes that archives are a non-material wealth that reflects document production of human activity in all areas. They offer testimonies about past events and the functioning of societies. They also uncover the identity of individuals and groups, but at the same time, they are easily lost and destroyed.

 

Yaqoub sees the archives as a repository of the national memory, an accurate record of the movements of nations and the ways in which they run their affairs. They also reflect the position of the State and its approach to life broadly speaking.

 

Major and developed countries consider archives valuable resources that can help them develop their sectors and solve their problems. The archives include information on many international organizations and bodies involved in their management and maintenance. Among the most important of these organizations is UNESCO which publishes studies on States under its umbrella.

 

 Archives are a repository of the national memory and an accurate record of the movements of nations.

 

The International Council on Archives (ICA), which includes more than 1,500 members from 195 countries, is regarded as one of the most important bodies at the international level. It is a non-governmental organization working under the umbrella of UNESCO to unite institutions and global professionals in archives across the globe with the aim of defending and preserving them by observing specific rules to this end.

 

The Council was established on June 9, 1948, with this date becoming the International Archives Day. This NGO is considered an extension of the Standing Committee on Archives, which was established in 1931 under the auspices of the League of Nations.

 

At the national level, in light of the deteriorating political, economic and social conditions and the various pillars of the State that are based on false illusions, we need to ask the following questions: “Where does Lebanon stand regarding the archives today?”

 

In 1978, the National Archives Center was established. It is a government agency that organizes and manages national archives in all their forms and types, especially blogs and materials generated by the work of the State in its public and private sectors, the activities of individuals, and documents and materials representing the authentic and genuine expression of the heritage of Lebanese society. The first board of directors was formed upon the establishemnt of National Archives Center on May 26, 1978 and was granted legal status by the government.

 

If we were to talk about the situation of the Center, which is located in Hamra Street, anyone can find the answer by just wondering whether it has a website or a directory of its own enabling interested persons to access any information about it.

 

It is worth noting that the Center that keeps Lebanon’s records and national memory, does not to date premises that meet the conditions of the simplest archives keeping center. The conditions of the Center can be summarized in the words of its late manager, Dr. Fouad Obeid, who said in an interview that it is more like an institution for archives disposal than it is for preserving intellectual and cultural wealth and heritage.

 

In a telephone interview with Mr. Ibrahim Assi, the mandated Head of the Documentation Department and Library, we raised questions about the situation of the Center in light of the crisis faced in the country.

 

Assi considered that the National Archives Center is not a priority for the State as it allocates very modest budgets that are hardly sufficient to cover salaries, wages and rent. The budget is reduced every year to the point that the budget figures are minimal.

 

Assi also pointed out that the Center plays an active role at all levels, from training the staff of departments and ministries in archiving processes, and housing the archives of some ministries in the National Archives Center, after duly finalizing their organization.

 

The Center also offers all services to citizens, researchers and historians by providing them with all the stored information for free, he says.

 

He added that the Center lacks a special building that meets the conditions for archives keeping, knowing that the Council of Ministers issued a decision in 2014 mandating the Council for Development and Reconstruction (CDR) to secure a building for the Center. However, the decision has remained ink on paper to date, despite the permanent checks by the Center management.

 

However, during different historical periods, the national archives keeping pace with building the State and developing its institutions assume a great importance.

 

In order to understand the important role of the archives in building the State, we interviewed Dr. Aad Bashir, the former Director of the Faculty of Information, Branch One, at the Lebanese University and the Head of the Information Management Section.

 

Bashir first said, “If the roots are lost, history is lost, and more than that, if the roots are lost the future will be debilitated.” He considered that the State’s argument is flimsy and weak, as manifested in its inability to vindicate its right through documents.



He also considered that many states that go to court at the international level to vindicate their rights with respect to borders or wealth, both oil or marine wealth, use their documents to vindicate such rights.

 

States attach considerable importance to documents. There are even states, some of which are Arab, that criminalize the destruction of original documents and make laws to this end. In order to preserve their documents, they issue firm decisions and decrees on archiving processes and handling methods.

 

Bashir emphasized the fact that it is rare to find states that have interest in their history, past and future and defend their rights without having a national center for the preservation of documents produced by them and related to the sectors operating in them, both governmental and private.

 

Regarding the stability of the State and the development of its various sectors, Bashir said that archival institutions have an important role to play. Today, we see the commitment of most states to the achievement of the sustainable development goals within the United Nations one-year program. We see that these states draw on the relevant centers and institutions in making decisions and getting to know more about these regions and sectors that are classified in 2030 to be under development, and fall within the goals of the United Nations, whereby they refer to these documents to make the right decisions in order to reach the desired goals.

 

He added that safeguarding rights is done by preserving documents. The documents are diversified, with some being used to vindicate a special right related to the rights of citizens, while others focus on national and public rights related to the State and its regional and international interests. Consequently, we see in the documents in question great interest in the rights of the State and citizens that guarantee their property rights and their rights in various areas.

 

 “If the roots are lost, history is lost, and more than that, if the roots are lost the future will be debilitated.”

 

In the field of medicine, interest in documents is essential and necessary, since the variety of such documents helps to make the right decision, in addition to contributing to the development of scientific research on disease control, and helping to find cures for recurrent ones.

 

In the context of the interview, Bashir said that the documents are a basic and major guide in monitoring the development of the State across different periods, generations and plans, and it is also a major guide and an important indicator in evaluating the work of institutions.

 

By referring to these documents, it is possible to assess the success of the plans adopted by the government and the extent of its commitment to the programs it promised to implement.

 

Therefore, the importance of archival centers in a particular state lies in their contrubution to decision-making and showing the way forward. They also create an opportunity for researchers to acquaint themselves with the evolution of political action and the social system. Thus, governments must attach importance to documents related to their roots and preserve them, and issue relevant decrees and laws on handling them in terms of their production, circulation, preservation, lending and keeping for a period of time.

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