United States funding for cultural preservation will be used to restore pre-Islamic artifacts in the National Museum, which were destroyed by a mob that broke into the building amid February 7’s political turmoil.
US Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, Patricia Butenis, made the announcement yesterday evening during a event held in Traders Hotel to celebrate the 236th anniversary of US Independence.
“We had intended to help preserve the priceless fragile pre-Islamic artifacts in the National Museum, the very ones destroyed in February when some thugs broke into the museum,” said Ambassador Butenis. “We have received funding for this project, which will now be used to restore the damaged artifacts to the fullest extent possible, and maintain the museum’s early collection of textiles.”
According to a museum source, the destroyed artifacts included one the museum’s most significant pieces – a coral stone head of Lord Buddha, an 11th century piece recovered from Thoddoo in Alifu Atoll.
Other pieces vandalised included the Bohomala sculptures, monkey statues and a broken statue piece of the Hindu water god, Makara, while the two five faced statues discovered in Male’ were also damaged – the only remaining archaeological evidence proving the existence of a Buddhist era in the Maldives.
Speaking at the ceremony, Ambassador Butenis urged the Maldives to continue to develop its democracy, and emphasised that the US had itself experienced a difficult struggle to implement the concept.
“In the first decade of of our nation’s existence, questions of how to form our government persisted as we tried to address the concerns of 13 different states. Despite strong disagreements, each nonetheless sent representatives to the convention and formed a government acceptable to all,” she said.
The convention produced what is rightfully hailed as a landmark document, and one that established a strong foundation for the rule of law. Its counterpart, the bill of rights, enshrined many of our basic rights such as freedom of speech, assembly and religion,” she added.
“But the original Constitution was not without flaws. It failed to protect people of all genders and races. The struggle to improve our laws, and for a just democracy and society, continues even today.”
Butenis said the US “knows how tough and rough the road to democracy can be, and the path to improve it. It requires the involvement of all sectors of society, political leaders and an active free press. It requires political leaders to put the interests of the country ahead of their own personal interests. This is as true for your country as it is for mine,” she said.
The US supported the work of the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI), she said, initiated in agreement with the Commonwealth, and the political party talks facilitated by the UN.
“These two mechanisms, with the necessary participation of all political parties, can provide a way forward to resolve the issue of an election date and the political turmoil that continues to preoccupy many citizens of the Maldives,” she said.
She also expressed “alarm, frankly”, at the “reports of violence during protests, violence towards journalists, and accusations of police violence and brutality. In our training with Maldivian police, we stress the importance of maintaining human rights,” she said.
Vice President Mohamed Waheed Deen spoke at the event on behalf of the Maldivian government, thanking the US for its continued assistance, particularly in terms of military training, tsunami recovery and reconstruction efforts.
“The US is a country for people to dream, and win their dream – the American Dream,” Deen said.
“Many people in the world, from all different countries, have achieved that dream, because the US has maintained its democracy and equality for all nationalities, religions and races.”