The Soviet Union suffered
great damage from the Nazi invasion in World War II. Millions of civilians
perished, and the Soviet military suffered enormous losses. Cultural treasures
were either looted by Nazi troops or were destroyed during military engagements
or as part of the Nazi program of eliminating Slavic culture as being
As the war neared
an end, the Soviet government, in response to the damage wrought by the
Nazis, formed "Trophy Brigades" to collect paintings and other
cultural objects from Germany and other Axis powers and to ship these
items home as compensation for the cultural destruction suffered by the
of the works of art that were taken to the Soviet Union by the Trophy
Brigades had previously been stolen from victims of the Holocaust by the
Nazis or their allies. While the Soviet Union did return many cultural
objects to former "east bloc" countries during the 1950s and
the 1970s, many of the artworks taken by the Trophy Brigades, including
art stolen from victims of the Holocaust, still remain in Russia today.
1997 Law and 2000
A potential problem
with the law, as amended, is that it does not appear to permit individuals
to make claims directly with the Russian government for the return of
art. Under the law, only governments may file claims for art. Accordingly,
if an individual wished to obtain the return of art under the law, the
individual would have to persuade a government to file a claim for the
art and to deliver the art to the individual if the claim is successful.
In addition, the law appears to require that the government that files
a claim for the return of art be the government of the country from which
the art was stolen. The rightful owners of the art may not, however, presently
reside in the country from which the art was stolen. Moreover, some countries,
such as Hungary, are currently unwilling to return art looted during the
Holocaust to victims who reside in other countries.
Currently, as noted
above, the only avenue directly available to individual claimants for
the restitution of art is litigation against the government in court.
Court proceedings, however, are expensive and time consuming, and individual
claimants who do not reside in Russia are likely to be intimidated by
suing the Russian Federation government in its own courts.
In order to provide
individual claimants with a means of obtaining the return of art at less
cost and in a shorter time than is likely in a litigation, a streamlined
claims procedure for individual claimants should be created under the
aegis of a government agency charged with reviewing and resolving claims.
To its credit, however,
in order to carry out the mandate of the law, the Russian Federation has,
pursuant to Resolution of the Russian Federation Government of March 11,
2001, No. 174, established an interdepartmental panel to coordinate and
direct the review of art and other cultural objects held by the Russian
government in order to identify items that were relocated to Russia as
a result of World War II and to prepare a list of these items. The panel
is called the "Interdepartmental Panel on Cultural Treasures Relocated
as a Result of World War Two" and is chaired by Mikhail E. Shvydkoi,
the Minister of Culture of the Russian Federation. A series of implementing
regulations were promulgated under the Resolution. (click
to view policy1) , (click
to view policy2)
Cooperation Agreement with Research Project on Art & Archives
The Commission for Art Recovery will test the effectiveness of the procedures instituted by the Russian government under the law and the willingness of the Russian government to return art and other cultural objects by making a claim on behalf of the rightful owners of a major collection.
The Commission for Art Recovery is hopeful that, as these and other claims are made and proven to the Russian government, the art that is returned will be returned in a manner that ensures that rightful owners of the art will in fact receive the art.