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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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Thursday, Apr. 17


Expocenter Eurasia at 13 Ulitsa Kapitan Voronin is the sight of Goods on the Way, a five-day event starting today showcasing the latest in the industrial products industry. Bags, backpacks, swimsuits and much, much more will be available to attendees hoping to update not only their style but their accessories for the upcoming summer.


Friday, Apr. 18


Teachers and students alike shouldnt miss the opportunity to establish lasting contacts with Russian and foreign institutions during the 21st Education and Career Fair at LenExpo, beginning today and finishing tomorrow. Learn more about education in Russia and connect with your fellow scholars.


The Tromso International Film Festival, Norways largest, brings a short festival to St. Petersburg for one day only during Scandinavian Oddities, starting at 7 p.m. today at Rodina Cinema Center. Tickets for the event are 100 rubles ($2.80).


Sunday, Apr. 20


Celebrate Easter at Pavlovsk during the Easter Fair that begins today and continues through next Sunday. Visitors will have the chance to paint Easter eggs and children can take part in games as well as help decorate a tree in honor of Christianitys holiest day.


Today is one of the final days to see the exhibit Cacti Children of the Sun at the Peter the Great Botanical Garden. Starting Apr. 17, budding botanists will marvel at the variety and beauty of the deserts most iconic plant.


Monday, Apr. 21


Improve your grasp of Neruda, Bolano and Marquez at TrueDAs Beginners Spanish Lesson this evening at their location on the Petrograd Side. An experienced teacher will be on hand to help all attendees better understand the intricacies of the language and improve their accent.


Tuesday, Apr. 22


SPIBAs Breakfast with the Director event series continues as the association welcomes Andrei Barannikov, general director of SPN Communications, to the Anna Pavlova Hall of the Angleterre Hotel this morning at 9 a.m. Attendees must confirm their participation by Apr. 21.


The AmCham Environment, Health and Safety Committee Meeting is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. this morning in the their St. Petersburg office.