Court battle over Scythian gold

Oleksandr Snidalov, a blogger and an activist of the Ukrainian community in the Netherlands, on what leading Dutch internet media have to say on the matter

Survey of the printed press will come a little later, but in the meantime, let me show you what sites of top Dutch newspapers are saying about the trial on the Scythian gold.

The only influential media, which did not post anything concerning the matter on its site, is De Telegraaf; the rest reacted instantly. Actually, they just reproduced the position presented at court by the Amsterdam Museum officials, the Ukrainian side and the representatives of Crimean museums.

Watch also The future of ‘Scythian gold’ to be finally decided on Dec. 14

Author: Henny de Lange

There are fears that if returned to Crimea, the Scythian gold could be commandeered and taken to Moscow. Conflicts are an integral part of Crimea.  From the very dawn of history, whole peoples came and went away of this crossroads between Europe and Asia: Greeks and Romans from the West, Scythians, Huns and Tartars from the East. Today Crimean treasures play their part in the struggle, which takes place not on its native soil, but in a Dutch courtroom. The court will decide, who can claim the archaeological findings, brought to Amsterdam two years ago as a part of “Scythian Gold” exhibition. The candidates are four Crimean museums and one museum in Kyiv.

While the Netherlands has been gazing decorated Scythian helmets, the power in Ukraine had changed. Russia annexed Crimea and took it away from Ukraine. Annexation crept in museum field as well, provoking the question: who owns the Crimean treasures, if the peninsula itself suddenly turned to be Russian instead of Ukrainian? Neither the Netherlands nor the majority of UN states did not recognize this change. Four Crimean museums with the support of Russian culture minister demanded to return the artifacts. Ukraine claimed the exhibition was the state property and thus should be returned to Kyiv. There are fears that if returned to Crimea, Scythian gold could be moved to Moscow.

The Amsterdam Museum has decided to place all the objects in question in its own storage until their legal status is defined. The Museum does not want to take responsibility for the decision, which can upset either party. “That’s very wise” – Іnge van der Vlies, professor of General Jurisprudence, comments – “That’s a very complicated case and professional lawyers should work on it”.

Crimean museums appeal to contracts of exhibition rent, signed by them and Amsterdam Museum. However, the question remains: do these valuables really belong to Crimean museums? “There is a link between the state and mentioned museums and we should find out if these contracts were signed on behalf of the Ukrainian State”.

The necessity to deal with Dutch, Ukrainian and Russian legislation simultaneously only complicates the matter. International agreements on artworks do not cover situations like this. Russian media have already accused the Netherlands of theft, but that is unjustified, Van der Vlies says: “The museum will return all the valuables only to the rightful owner”.

The subject of the today’s process is the cultural heritage of Crimea.  Van der Vlies: “This is not about art treasures anymore. This is a political contest, and the situation around MH17 influences the issue as well. It won’t matter in the eye of the law, but still, it will play its part”.


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