Crimean gold to (no) end

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by Annika Backe
translated by Christina Schlögl

March 30, 2017 – It is somewhat reminiscent of the film “Good Bye, Lenin!”, albeit with a different sign. Four museums of Crimea, have been asking themselves since 2014, whether or not they will get back their gold treasures they have lent to the West. During the exhibition of the objects, Russia has annexed the Black Sea peninsular to their state territory, which is neither recognised by Ukraine nor by the international community of states. A judge from Amsterdam has delivered a verdict on the question, which owner should get the artifacts back.  

The Scythians were known in Antiquity for their horse-riding skills and their archery, as well as gold work. Photo: PHGCOM / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

On 14 December 2016, she ruled that the items on loan, one of which being a 2400-years-old ceremonial helmet from the horse people, the Scythians, has to be returned to Ukraine.
Her verdict relies on the UNESCO convention on cultural property of 1970. She stated: “Neither Crimea nor the Autonomous Republic of Crimea are sovereign states. One thing is certain: When the objects were exported, Crimea was part of the sovereign state of Ukraine.”

The reactions

The court thus rejected the restitution claims of the four Crimean museums, where visitors have only been able to see photos of their most spectacular artifacts for the last three years. The curators are therefore severely disappointed and claim the court decision was politically motivated.
As one would expect, Ukraine appreciates the decision as rather positive. In an interview with the German ZDF heute-journal, the deputy culture secretary Svetlana Fomenko said that all cultural property would of course be returned to Crimea – as soon as the Russian invasion will be over. The Russian ministry of culture in Moscow appears piqued and calls the court ruling a very negative precedent. 

The return

According to the court decision, these items of loan, more than one hundred in numbers, that were exhibited in Bonn and Amsterdam in 2014 in the exhibition “Crimea: Gold and secrets of the Black Sea” are to be kept in a secret place in the Netherlands for three more months. Their final return will probably be delayed even further, though. After all, the curator of the lending museums has already announced her appeal. Thus the judicial tug of war over the gold of Crimea will go into the next round. 

In September of 2014, CoinsWeekly already reported on the issue in the article “When culture turns politics: The fight over the Crimean gold”.