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State Maintains Firm Grip on Pilfered Treasures

Published: February 27, 2013 (Issue # 1748)



  • The Mouravieff-Apostol house and museum was restored by a Swiss descendant of its pre-revolutionary owner.
    Photo: MA-HOUSEMUSEUM.RU

MOSCOW President Vladimir Putin said last week that returning a Jewish book collection confiscated after the Bolshevik Revolution was impossible because it would open a Pandoras box of claims on such property.

[If Russia] starts satisfying these sorts of claims, there would be no end to them and no telling what the consequences might be, Putin said at the vast new Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow.

But some formerly communist countries have passed laws voluntarily giving back seized assets, and observers note that Russia has already opened this box by returning properties to the Russian Orthodox Church.

The Schneerson Library of thousands of religious tomes and manuscripts, which Putin proposed placing in the Jewish museum in Moscow, is among scores of cultural artifacts claimed by descendants of their former owners.

The Soviet government appropriated huge amounts of property after the 1917 revolution, including factories, banks and assets of the Russian Orthodox Church, and withdrew from Germany after World War II with trucks full of war booty.

One of the most prominent assets in Russia to be claimed by a foreign government is a collection of gold known as Priams Treasure, discovered by German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann in the 1870s on what he thought was the site of ancient Troy.

The collection of Trojan gold headbands, earrings and other jewelry was pilfered in 1945 by the Red Army from a bunker under the Berlin Zoo. Certain items from the treasure, including the Large Diadem, a headband made of shimmering gold leaf, are on display at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts.

According to the terms of a 1990 treaty, Russia was supposed to return all the art and artifacts the Soviet Union took from Germany, including Priams Treasure, but it hasnt done so.

The Pushkin Museum and the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg are also home to a valuable set of impressionist paintings claimed by someone else. Art collectors Mikhail and Ivan Morozov put together the collection, which includes works by French impressionists Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley, among others. Descendants of the Morozov family have claimed the paintings as their rightful property.

A spokeswoman for Hermitage director Mikhail Piotrovsky said the museum is against all forms of restitution.

Unlike Russia, certain central and eastern European nations have adopted laws stipulating the return of nationalized properties to their original owners. Some Russian pundits believe that Russia should now follow suit, but they warn of the difficulties involved.

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Saturday, Aug. 23


Uppsala Park plays host to Fairy Noon today, a performance of five separate fairy tales ranging from folk classics to more haunting selections. There will be three different renditions of the tales throughout the day and tickets start at 500 rubles ($13.80) for adults and 300 rubles ($8.30) for children.


Classic Finnish cartoon characters the Moomins expect to receive a warm welcome from Russian fans during todays Moomin Festival at the Pearl Plaza Shopping Center at 51 Petergofskoye Shosse. Become a kid again or introduce a new generation to the beloved creation of Finnish writer Tove Jansson.



Sunday, Aug. 24


The tortured genius of Dutch master Vincent van Gogh gets his day in the centers Konnushnaya Ploschad during Make Art Like Van Gogh, a daylong celebration of the artist that will allow amateur artists to try and replicate the work that made the famed painter world-renowned.


Experience a variety of dances highlighting the diversity of the world around as at the final day of the Ethno-Dance International Dance Festival that has been at the St. Petersburg Humanitarian University of Trade Unions this past week. Tonights performance will feature Egyptian dancers accompanied by local orchestras.



Monday, Aug. 25


Today kicks off the Elena Obraztsovoy International Competition for Young Vocalists in the large hall of the Shostakovich Philharmonic. Talented youngsters will showcase their range over the next six days before a winner is chosen on Aug. 30.



Tuesday, Aug. 26


Love movies but hate all those words? Then check out Rodina Cinema Centers Factor of Consensus film forum this evening. Silent movie classics from the beginning of the 20th century will be screened and accompanied by a pianist, who will provide the soundtrack for the ongoing action. The screenings begin at 7 p.m. Check Rodinas website for more details.



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