Dutch museum caught in fallout from Crimea conflict

Archaeological treasures on loan from Ukraine in legal limbo

The Hermitage museum in St Petersburg, which says Russian museums have no claims to the collections held in Crimea. Photograph:  Lucian Perkins/Washington Post

The Hermitage museum in St Petersburg, which says Russian museums have no claims to the collections held in Crimea. Photograph: Lucian Perkins/Washington Post

Sat, Mar 29, 2014, 01:00


Lawyers in the Netherlands have been asked to advise on the fate of a collection of rare Crimean archaeological treasures on loan from Ukraine to an Amsterdam museum.

Ownership of the Scythian gold and other spectacular artefacts showing at the Allard Pierson museum has fallen into a legal limbo since Vladimir Putin signed a treaty on March 18th absorbing Crimea into Russia’s territory.

European Union countries, including the Netherlands, have accused Russia of a land grab and refused to acknowledge the change of power in Crimea. That leaves curators at the Allard Pierson with a dilemma: should the Scythian gold be returned to Ukraine when the exhibition ends or handed over to Russia?

Yesterday, the Allard Pierson said it had sought legal advice from the University of Amsterdam and the Dutch ministry of foreign affairs.“The objects on loan will remain in the Netherlands for at least the duration of the exhibition, which lasts until the end of August. They will then be returned, taking into account the legal ownership of the objects.”

Sitting at the cross roads of Europe and Asia, Crimea has been prey over the centuries to multiple invasions that echo in the region’s rich archeological legacy.

Among more than 1,000 objects in the “Crimea: Gold and Secrets of the Black Sea” exhibition are a Scythian ceremonial helmet dating back to the 4th century BC, countless precious gems and a Chinese lacquered box brought to Crimea in Roman times via the Silk Road.

Ukraine has never before loaned out so many prize archaeological pieces to a foreign museum.“The exhibition casts new light on the Scythians, Goths and Huns, for centuries dismissed as little more than barbarians,” said the Allard Pierson.

Of the five Ukrainian museums that agreed last year to contribute objects for the exhibition, four are located in Crimea and one in Kiev. Ownership of the artefacts is now divided between two jurisdictions creating a headache for lawyers, said Mikhail Shvydkoy, the Kremlin’s envoy for international cultural co-operation.“The Amsterdam museum has return guarantees not only to the Crimean museums, which belong to Russia now, but also to Ukraine’s museums. So a legal conflict arises. It’s rather serious,” he told Interfax.