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Opinions & Interviews

8 Jan 2018

Belarus to study foreign practices in returning cultural property

Belarus to study foreign practices in returning cultural property

MINSK, 8 January (BelTA) – Belarusian experts will explore foreign legislation to develop a mechanism for returning Belarus’ cultural heritage from abroad, BelTA learned from Olga Popko, Deputy Chairperson of the International Affairs Commission of the House of Representatives.

According to the MP, the idea is to explore relevant legislation in foreign countries. “Many states involved in World War II have developed their own approaches to the repatriation [of cultural heritage]. We can draw on the experience of our Polish colleagues. It is already clear, however, that we should be guided by Russia’s laws,” Olga Popko noted.

She stressed that in 1998 Russian MPs adopted the Law on Cultural Valuables Displaced to the USSR as a Result of the Second World War and Located on the Territory of the Russian Federation. “Russia knows well that there might be some valuables brought there from Belarus, Ukraine, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Moldova back in the day. In line with Article 7 of this law, Russia pledges to return cultural valuables to these countries on condition that they, in turn, adopt similar laws and give back Russia’s cultural objects if there are any. Belarus has not given such guarantees yet,” the MP underlined.

The 1998 law envisages specific conditions which should be complied with to claim something back, Olga Popko clarified. “My initiative is meant to fulfill these conditions. This is when we will be able to submit specific proposals to Russia,” she said.

The Culture Code came into force in Belarus in early 2017. One of the articles stipulates mandatory return of historical and cultural valuables illegally exported from the country during armed conflicts. The document, however, is vague about the return mechanism. “This document cannot be applied to get back anything. I have enlisted the help of a group of experts in cultural heritage protection and international law to help formulate amendments to the Culture Code,” the MP pointed out.

She added that there are no clear statistics on the number of items taken out from the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic to various countries during World War II. This fact causes many problems. “Unfortunately, the cultural objects did not have very good descriptions back in 1941. It is hard to identify an item registered as a Slutsk belt without any details. There are some well-described valuables though, and we know well what they look like,” Olga Popko remarked. She mentioned the Cross of Saint Euphrosyne as an example. “Unless we have the necessary law, we will not be able to even claim back a cultural object which became a symbol of our country long ago,” Olga Popko summarized.

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