Museum must return Crimean treasures to Ukraine

Dutch court questions Crimea’s status in a ruling that is likely to anger Russia

Objects on display in the exhibition, Crimea: Gold and Secrets of the Black Sea at the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. File photograph: Bart Maat/EPA

Objects on display in the exhibition, Crimea: Gold and Secrets of the Black Sea at the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. File photograph: Bart Maat/EPA

 

A priceless collection of gold artifacts from Crimea that was on loan to a Dutch museum when Russia seized the peninsula must be returned to Ukraine and not Crimea, a Dutch court ruled on Wednesday, in a judgment likely to anger Moscow.

Kiev and four museums have been wrangling over the fate of the archeological treasures, which include gems, helmets and scabbards and which were on loan to Amsterdam’s Allard Pierson Museum when Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014.

A spokesman for Ukraine’s foreign minister Pavlo Klimkin tweeted: “This is an important victory for Ukraine.”

There was no immediate reaction from Russian officials, but the ruling is likely to anger Moscow, as Russia insists it has full sovereignty over the Black Sea peninsula, which houses a major Russian naval base.

The annexation, which followed the toppling of a pro-Russian president in Kiev, triggered the biggest confrontation between the Kremlin and the West since the end of the Cold War in 1991.

It led to Western sanctions against Moscow and complications in the international arena for Crimean organisations, from sports teams and cultural institutions to commerce.

Some Crimeans greeted the decision with dismay.

“I don’t think it was a good idea to bring this before court,” said Valentina Mordvinsteva, a historian and the exhibition’s original curator in Crimea.

“After this ruling what should Crimean people think about Ukraine?” she said.

Exhibition

The exhibition, which has as its centrepiece a 4th-century BC Scythian helmet, highlighted the rich history of the peninsula, which was a staging post on the Silk Road between China to Europe and a meeting point for Russian, Greek and Turkish cultures since ancient times.

The court ruled that only sovereign countries could claim objects as cultural heritage.

The court said that, since only Ukraine was sovereign, it was for a Ukrainian court to adjudicate the competing ownership claims.

“Ownership questions have to be settled when [the artifacts] have been returned to the state and in accordance with the law of the state in question,” said judge Mieke Dudok van Heel.

“The Allard Pierson Museum must return the treasures to Kiev.”

A spokesman for the University of Amsterdam, owner of the Allard Pierson Museum, said the museum would continue to hold the objects until all appeals were settled.

The Crimean museums have three months to appeal the ruling.

Ukraine was ordered to pay a portion of the costs of storing the collection, estimated at €300,000. But for Ms Mordinsteva, the story had further to run.

“It is not the end of the story,” she said. “Such a rich story will never end.”

Reuters