Dutch justice orders return of Crimean archaeological treasures to Ukraine

In the Netherlands, justice ordered on appeal, Tuesday October 26, the return to Ukraine of a collection of archaeological treasures, loaned by Crimea to a museum in Amsterdam shortly before the annexation of this Ukrainian peninsula by Moscow in 2014. “The Amsterdam Court of Appeal ordered the Allard Pierson Museum to hand over to the Ukrainian State the Crimean treasures », decided the judges.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday welcomed a “Long-awaited victory”. Saying to himself on Twitter ” grateful “ for this “Fair decision”, Mr. Zelensky added that Ukraine “Always get back what belongs to him”, ensuring that after these treasures Kiev “Will recover the Crimea”.

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In November 2014, four museums in Crimea launched a joint legal action to force the Allard Pierson Museum, archaeological museum of the University of Amsterdam, to return works loaned for the exhibition “The Crimea: gold and secrets of the black Sea “. In 2016, a Dutch court ruled that these archaeological treasures should be returned to Ukraine, explaining that Crimea was not considered an autonomous state.

The museum “between a rock and a hard place”

The Crimean museums then appealed the judgment, arguing that the gold belonged to this region. In 2019, the Amsterdam Court of Appeal stressed that it needed more time to rule. As for the treasures, they were, in the meantime, kept in a “Safe place” by the Allard Pierson Museum. The rich collection of objects, dating from the second century AD until the early Middle Ages, was on loan to this museum less than a month before Russia’s annexation of Crimea, after a military intervention followed by a referendum of attachment deemed illegal by Kiev and the West.

Torn between Ukraine and Crimea, both of which demanded the return of the objects, the Allard Pierson Museum was taken ” between the devil and the deep sea “, had estimated the Dutch court in 2016. Its judgment had caused the anger of Moscow and the joy of Petro Poroshenko, then president of Ukraine. According to him, the decision meant that “Not only is Scythian gold Ukrainian, but also Crimea is Ukrainian”.

Another piece from the “Treasures of Crimea”, photographed in April 2014.
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It was therefore for the Amsterdam Court of Appeal to decide. Since the case does not appear to be covered by Dutch or European laws, nor to be linked to world heritage as defined by Unesco, it was now, according to this jurisdiction, to “Decide who has the strongest rights”. Andreï Malguine, the director of the Tavrida Museum in Simferopol, one of the four establishments in Crimea to have initiated the legal action, had meanwhile accused the Dutch justice of “Hang out” the trial.

“This question is very complicated. We would of course like our collection to be back in his house ”, for his part declared in September the spokesman of the Kremlin, Dmitry Peskov. “We not only collect museum pieces”, but also “Relics testifying to our millennial history”, for his part commented Tuesday, in a video, the head of the Ukrainian diplomacy, Dmytro Kuleba. During the trial, “All Russian falsifications and manipulations” resulted in a « fiasco », he concluded.

The World with AFP