Museum scandal between Ukraine and the Netherlands

Author : Tetiana Sviatenko

Source : 112 Ukraine

The deadlock of cultural exchange: Ukrainian far-right activists do not return Dutch paintings of the XVII century, and the Netherlands do not return Scythian Gold to Ukraine
14:04, 6 April 2016


Despite assurances from the Government of the Netherlands to support the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU, we should be cautious with the optimistic forecasts of the referendum results. In addition to the great popularity of Euroscepticism in the Netherlands, museum scandal might prevent Ukraine's association with the EU. In Ukraine, a few years ago at the hands of supposedly volunteer battalions were found paintings stolen in 2005 from a Dutch museum. During two years, the museum of the Netherlands cannot return to Ukraine the gold of the Scythians. Let us find the reasons of that.

Eurosceptics actively use this scandal involving the theft of cultural property of the Netherlands. It is about 24 paintings of the XVII century, and objects made of silver, including works by Jan van Goyen and Hendrik Bogaert, stolen in the Netherlands in 2005, which at the time of the abduction were estimated at 10 million euros.

Netherlands pictures are not a subject of a trade

Scandal erupted after the visit of President Petro Poroshenko to the Netherlands at the end of November 2015. In a week of Dutch investigators said that they can tell the location of the stolen paintings. Director of the Museum of Western Friesland Horn Ed Gerdink said that in July 2015 the two men went to the Dutch embassy in Kyiv, offering to sell the paintings to the Netherlands. According to the director of the museum, there was one man who introduced himself as Boris Gumenyuk, battalion OUN (far-right), and another man was his interpreter. "He showed a photo of one of the paintings ("Peasant" Hendrik Bogaert). A fresh Ukrainian newspaper was on the photo as proof that the men really have the painting. He explained that his men found the paintings in the villa of one of the runaway officials of the "previous government" in the east Ukraine," told Gerdink.

Related: Referendum in the Netherlands: many Dutch still haven’t made their choice, - Foreign Ministry

The men asked to EUR 5 million for the return of the paintings to the Netherlands. "But we wanted to pay them only for their expenses, since these pictures are legal property of the museum, so it is not in their right to keep or sell them," said Gerdink. He added that the museum decided to disclose this information for fear that the pictures are in danger.


"Everyone in Ukraine, who has to do with our stolen items or has any information about their whereabouts, I want to say that it is not art, which you can trade... These cultural values ​​are a part of our cultural heritage, our history, and they belong to us. I want to say all the Ukrainians, who are promoting European values: make sure that the value returned to the rightful owner, in the Dutch museum," said Gerdink.

Related: Umland: Offshore scandal before referendum in the Netherlands doesn’t benefit Ukraine

How Dutch painting of the XVII century might affect the fate of Ukraine today?

At the same time in Ukraine, some experts and political analysts have called a statement of Gerdink a provocation and a powerful informational attack against our country. The news that in Ukraine has appeared Dutch cultural heritage, and, moreover, they are in the hands of the volunteer battalion "of the Association of Ukrainian Nationalists" (OUN), which also require a significant amount for the return of cultural property back to the Netherlands, were the main subject on the central TV channels.


Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Pavlo Klimkin said that the issue of the stolen paintings was raised during a visit of Poroshenko to the Netherlands. He also said that the issue of the paintings is important for Ukraine in the context of the referendum. "This issue is very important for us, as it is an important question for those who are trying to spoil our image. This is especially important in the referendum context, which will be held on April 6," he noted.

Security Services are searching for the pictures in Ukraine

Poroshenko President instructed the Security Services to check information on finding stolen Dutch paintings.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs immediately reported that the case with Dutch paintings is conducted with close cooperation with the Netherlands: "We are aware of the facts, that in one of cottages near Donetsk, a group of people discovered the collection, which was identified as pertaining to the collection, which a few years ago was stolen from the Dutch museum. There is a possibility that someone is trying to sell this collection on the black market," Avakov said.

In late December 2015, the Prosecutor General of Ukraine applied to the Netherlands with a request for international legal assistance in a criminal case into the abduction of paintings. In accordance with the Criminal Procedure Code, the Prosecutor General of Ukraine entrusted the case to the Security Service.

Related: MP: The Netherlands’ attitude to the Association

As for now, Ministry of Internal Affairs has not established the location of the stolen works of art.

Ukrainian Security Service cooperates with law enforcers of the Netherlands in the investigation of the case.


The head of the Security Service Vasyl Hrycak said that in this case service staff interviewed more than 100 people: "I think, on the eve of the referendum, which is scheduled for April 6 this year in the Netherlands, the scandal with a possible abduction, which might involve the citizens of Ukraine, damages the image of our country... We have interviewed more than 100 people from those who are called, their relationship with politicians, and so on… We are moving in many directions at the same time, checking numerous versions regarding the persons who might be involved in the abduction of pictures or their trade and storage. I can tell about it, when we successfully complete it. I want to assure you that the service is doing everything possible to find these pictures in the shortest time."

Museum workers fear for the state of paintings


Now the missing collection (24 paintings and 70 silver objects of XVI-XVII centuries) are not worth of 10 million euros. Over the years, without proper storage conditions, the price of paintings fell heavily: "The photo of the picture "Peasant" shocked us, apparently, for a long time it was kept in the folded form. Now it is spoiled. I think other works are not in their best condition… Now the collection is worth a maximum of € 1.3 million, and, most likely, half a million euros," said Gerdink.

Related: MP: We show the Dutch that Ukrainians are Europeans, too

Scythian gold drove the Dutch to a standstill

Another scandal in which Ukrainians and cultural values were involved, has happened in the Netherlands two years ago and lasts until now. At the beginning of February 2014, the exhibition of collection of Scythian gold was evacuated from the Crimean museums in the Netherlands. Exhibition "Crimea, the golden island in the Black Sea" ended on May 31, 2014, but by the end of February 2014, Crimea was annexed by Russia, and the Dutch did not know, whom return the Scythian gold.

Ukrainian collection of Scythian gold for more than two years is in the Archaeological Museum of the University of Amsterdam (Allard Pierson Museum). In accordance with international and national law, Scythian gold cannot be returned to the peninsula until the completion of the Russian occupation of Crimea. The Dutch have chosen the only possible way to resolve the conflict - to resolve the issue in court, arguing that one of the parties would always object. If gold will be returned to the Russian Crimea - Ukraine will sue. And if they return it to Kyiv, numerous claims from Crimea museums would come, because it was taken out of the collection of the Crimean museums. The trial is still ongoing.

The position of Ukrainian Foreign Ministry

From the very beginning of a dispute, Ukrainian side has requested the Kingdom of the Netherlands with a request to take all measures provided by international law, the laws of this country and the bilateral agreements, to take measures to prevent the illegal transfer from the Netherlands.

Question return the exhibits is constantly on the agenda of the bilateral political dialogue between the Netherlands and Ukraine. Ukraine has taken all the necessary diplomatic and legal steps to return Ukraine’s state property.

Now there is a dispute concerning cultural property between the District Court of Amsterdam and the Crimean Museum, and the Allard Pierson Museum, which joined as a third party.

To represent the interests of the State Ministry of Justice of Ukraine, firm BerghStoop & Sanders was involved in the court. July 1, 2015 Counsel Sanders (Ukraine) passed a package of documents on the case to the District Court of Amsterdam.

March 9, 2016 Ukrainian side's position on the case the court has also been filed. Date of oral hearings, during which a lawyer will be invited to the court to present the arguments and defend the position, is appointed by the District Court in Amsterdam on October 5, 2016.

Related: Dutch MP Kees Verhoeven: I support EU-Ukraine Association Agreement

Crimean museum workers do insist

In turn, the Crimean museums insist that the Scythian gold must be returned to Crimea.

Four Crimean museum filed a lawsuit to Amsterdam Allard Pierson Museum, in which they demanded to fulfill contractual obligations and to return a collection of Scythian gold from the Netherlands to Crimea.

"Treaty was concluded between the museums. Naturally, Kyiv coordinated the transmission. But nothing was transferred to Kyiv, it was drove directly from "Chersonese" to Bonn. This is an unusual museum practice to take the exhibits and then do not return them. The owner of the collection, according to documents, is a reserve "Chersonese." Foreign lawyers and the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation is now working on this issue," the press-secretary of the reserve "Chersonese" explained.

Related: Borovik told a Dutch newspaper about "non-European savagery" of Ukraine

Scythian Gold is to remain in the Netherlands

The exhibition in the Netherlands, which consists of 5 parts (part from Kyiv, and another four - from the Crimea museums), was completed on 31 May. The part from Kyiv was returned to Ukraine immediately after the exhibition, but the Crimean parts remain in the Netherlands until the court decision.

The collection of 19 objects worth € 11.4 million came back to Kyiv. Well, 565 exhibits (2111 museum objects) for a total sum insured of 1 million 438 thousand euro remain in the Netherlands.

Cultural affairs, as well as the Association of affairs are complex and multifaceted issues, they demand a serious investigation and attention.

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