Anger among the Russians and joy in Ukraine following the Amsterdam Court ruling on hundreds of Crimea art treasures. The judge assigned the so-called “Crimean gold” to Ukraine. The Ukrainian delegation was cheering in court. The Russian art world speaks of theft and speculation about political motives.
It‘s all about art that has been on display at the Allard Pierson Museum in 2014. After the exhibition, the museum wanted to return the art, but to whom? Russia had annexed Crimea during the exhibition. And so a conflict arose over the 500 works of art.
At the court session, there was a new episode in the battle for art treasures today. NRC journalist Pieter van Os has been following the case since the beginning. He was at the session and described in Nieuwsuur how the Ukrainian delegation experienced this day: “Those Ukrainians came on a kind of bus from The A-Team with a substantial delegation, with deputy ministers and top officials. They were in a very good mood after the verdict.”
Ukrainian President Zelensky is also making a statement and is happy with the verdict. He speaks of a “long-awaited victory” and says that after the gold it is Crimea’s turn to be retrieved by his country.
In Russia, they absolutely cannot agree with the ruling and even speak of theft. “I find the verdict very unjust. It is politically motivated, you can call it theft,” says Konstantin Mogilevski of the Russian Historical Society.
NRC journalist calls the ruling striking. “Lately, the world of cultural guardians has become vogue that things have to go back to where they come out of the ground. These items come from the bottom of Crimea.” However, things do not go back to Crimea, but they do go to Kiev. “The museum law that was in force when the pieces were loaned was so well put together that the pieces have to go back to the state of Ukraine, says the court of justice.”
The ruling may have far-reaching consequences for the exchange of art, Van Os thinks. “It‘s already very difficult for Dutch museums to borrow pieces. Those museums will not say that their refusal has to do with Crimean gold, but that will play an important role. And it has already been said by a Russian minister that if the documents are allocated to Ukraine in Appeal too, the Netherlands can whistle towards cooperation with Russian museums.”
‘Borrowed pieces must come back‘
That this statement is not good for the relationship between the Russian and Dutch art world, says Aleksej Levykin of the National Historical Museum in Moscow. He also talks about a political statement. “It’s a very sad statement. I fear that the consequences will be very negative for further exchanges between museums because it is usually bound by very tight rules. A piece loaned by a museum must also be returned.”
An art collection is now incomplete, says Andrej Malgin, director of the Tavride museum where the pieces come from. “Our collection has been pulled apart.” Aleksej Levykin of the National Historical Museum adds that traditions are being compromised. “All principles and traditions have been thrown overboard. Our country is a victim of broad daylight robbery.”
The four Crimean museums that lent the pieces at the time are likely to be in cassation against judgment, until there is a verdict in that case, the pieces remain in the Netherlands.