Fate of Crimean Treasures: Court battle over Scythian gold

13:08 Oct. 7, 2016

Court battle over Scythian gold

A visitor walks through the 'Scythian Gold' exhibition (AP photo)

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".


Author: Rob Gollin

Amsterdam Museum had no reasons to hold back Crimean treasures it exhibited back in 2014. "You can even ask: how could they be that patient?" said Martin Sanders, the lawyer representing Ukraine in the process. In the presence of representatives of Ukrainian Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Information Policy, and in front of representatives of four museums of Russian-occupied Crimean peninsula, the court must decide: where the hundreds of exhibits should go to - Kyiv or Crimea? Ukraine claimed to be the state of origin of these valuables, while the museums insist all the the artifacts were found on the Crimean territory and had been stored there for many years.

Amsterdam museum stated that it did not return the exhibits to either of parties because of a possibility of lawsuits of the other party. After the annexation of Crimea by Russia, it became unclear who was the real owner of the treasures.  Sanders said, "The collection of objects has become a hot potato for the Amsterdam Museum. Like a bone in the throat. You can say that museum has nearly choked on that". The ambition of Amsterdam Museum to charge the costs of storing the valuables (net weight – almost 3 tons) off Ukraine is "an attempt to get at least something from this situation".

As the lawyer of Amsterdam Museum Paul Loeb said, Russian occupation did not leave any possibilities for a hasty decision. The museum administration did not feel they have right to decide anything else under this circumstances. "We have just borrowed the valuables". The director of the museum Wim Hupperetz stated that Ukraine claims were "almost absurd". The legal dispute goes on for almost two years now.

According to him, Amsterdam Museum does not consider Ukraine to be the rightful owner of the exhibition. Four Crimean museums demand to return the treasures to Crimea. As their lawyer Michiel van Leeuwen said Kyiv could not just cancel the operative management on the collection. The historian working for one of these museums Nikita Khrapunov claimed the state of Ukraine did not attach value to historical treasures. Ukraine doing almost nothing to prevent illegal excavations and practically does not finance any historical research. "If by the court decision the treasures go to Kyiv, our people won't be able to see them anymore," he said.

The Deputy Ukrainian Minister of Information Policy Emine Dzheppar saw the violation of Ukrainian legislation during the process. "Which passport did you show while crossing Dutch border?" she asked the museums representatives acidly.

The court will rule out the decision on December 14th.



Hundreds of exhibits from Crimea stored in the Amsterdam Museum repository as for today, are located there illegally and should return to Ukraine, which is the owner state and, therefore, their rightful owner – these were the arguments of Ukrainian lawyers during the process in Amsterdam. The court has been hearing the case of ownership for Crimean artifacts exhibited in Amsterdam Museum in 2014. While the exhibition was held, Russia annexed Crimea and the question arose: where should the exhibits return – to four Crimean museums or to the state of Ukraine?

Crimean museums claim that the exhibits should return to Crimea. They had been found and stored there even before Ukraine existed as a state, stated the lawyers of Crimean museums. According to them, the dispute is not only about rules, but also about culture and about people. Hundreds of exhibits in question include Scythian golden items and rare lacquered chests.

Ukrainian lawyers claim that Crimean treasures are the part of Ukrainian cultural heritage, and as long as Crimea is under Russian occupation, the exhibits cannot return to museums there, as their administration already has taken "Russian citizenship".

Meanwhile, Amsterdam Museum has stored the exhibits in its own repository. If objects return to Ukraine, Amsterdam Museum will demand the payment for storing the valuables during the process. The latter can continue in case of appellation over the decision due to be ruled out on December 14th.


Author: Paul Steenhuis

For Sanders and his colleague Gert-Jan van den Bergh from Bergh Stoop & Sanders law firm, it is obvious that the "the state of origin of the treasures is Ukraine". According to them, Kyiv has the legal right to demand returning of the exhibits, referring, particularly, to UNESCO decisions, as long as Crimea is an occupied territory. Ukrainian lawyers do not understand the decisions of Amsterdam Museum.

"Crimean museums which want these valuables to return to them took an active part in the process of occupation and now they present themselves as Russian ones," van den Bergh said.

The lawyer presenting Crimean museums, Michiel van Leeuwen, denied Ukrainian side statements and claimed "museums are neutral. They had to recognize Russian jurisdiction or otherwise lose financing".

In addition, he stated that the valuables ought to go back to the museums they belong to. He denounced the argument of impossibility of returning exhibits to Crimea because of its occupation. He referred the precedent of the so-called "Elgin Marbles" which are today exhibited at the British Museum of London.

"In 1802 Lord Elgin took the marble sculptures out of Athens allegedly to secure them against the Turkish occupation. These exhibits still did not return to Greece, although the state is no more occupied".

The Amsterdam Museum lawyer Paul Loeb van Nauta Dutilh stated that the court did not recognize itself in the image of "hot potato" described by Ukrainian lawyer. He claimed that the exhibits are stored in the secret repository on the Netherlands' territory and remain in a good condition. Amsterdam Museum also wants compensation for storage costs and legal costs from the party which the court will recognize as a rightful owner.  

Amsterdam Museum also wants compensation for storage costs and legal costs from the party which the court will recognize as a rightful owner.  


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