In a twist of fate, just as Crimea returned to Russia after 25 years of Ukrainian oppressive rule, Crimea’s most precious collection of Scythian gold was on tour in European and promptly became arrested by Holland. It is in Holland still, despite several Crimean Museums’ ownership of the collection. After the first hearing in 2016, Holland awarded the golden collection to Ukraine. The decision was appealed, and is now coming for a near hearing in Holland. The following article in Argumenty i Fakty from 12.03.2019 is about this.
The second trial, which will decide the fate of the exhibits of the Crimean museums, started in Holland.
Hearings on the case of the “Scythian gold” began on March the 11th in Amsterdam. In 2014, it was taken from the Crimean museums to an exhibition in Amsterdam. After the reunification of Crimea with Russia, the Ukrainian authorities demanded to return the exhibits to Ukraine. In 2016, the district court of Amsterdam ruled in favour of Kiev. Crimean museums have filed an appeal, which will now be considered in court.
Aif.ru answers the main questions about the upcoming process.
What are these gold artefacts?
In February 2014, when Maidan was raging in Kiev, the exhibition “Crimea: Gold and Secrets of the Black Sea” was opened in Amsterdam. It collected the best exhibits from the ‘Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine’, ‘Kerch Historical and Cultural Reserve’, ‘The Central Museum of Tavrida’, ‘Bakhchisarai Historical and Cultural Reserve’ and ‘The National Reserve “Tauric Chersonesos”‘. Amsterdam became another point in the Museums’ “tour” of the collection: before Holland they were exhibited in Bonn, Germany.
The exhibition told the story of the Scythians, an ancient nomadic people who from the VIII century BC inhabited the steppes between the Danube and the Don, including the Crimea. The history of the Scythians is told in a large number of written sources by various ancient authors, especially Greek, because the Scythians lived next door to numerous Greek colonies on the Black Sea coast (one of them was the famous Crimean Chersonesos).
Archaeologists still find artefacts of the Scythians all over the Northern Black Sea coast in the burial mounds in which the nobility and commoners were laid to rest. Most of the “tombs” were looted long before the scientists came to the scene, so it is very rare to find untouched graves. However, those burial grounds that the robbers could not reach, contain many valuable artefacts, including gold, which the Scythians associated with Royal power and eternal life.
Why is this collection valuable?
In total, the exhibition presented 1071 items from Crimea: weapons, jewellery, various products and household items. The total cost of the exhibits exceeds $4 million.
There are unique historical artefacts among the items currently held in Holland. For example, the sculpture of the snake-goddess, which was sent to the exhibition from the Kerch Museum. It was discovered in the XIX century and then gave rise to a sensation. Herodotus wrote that the Scythians descended from the union of Hercules with the serpentine virgin. For a long time it was believed that the ancient Greek historian himself came up with this myth, but the discovery proved that this legend was popular before Herodotus.
The pearl of the collection were the Chinese lacquered boxes, presumably made in China in the I century AD. They were found in one of the burials. How the boxes got to Crimea is not quite clear, but it shows the extensive connections of the peninsula, which was at the crossroads of trade routes between the West and the East.
Why did the court of Amsterdam decided to give the gold to Ukraine?
The host states signed contracts with two parties: the museums representing the collections and the Ministry of Culture of the country that sent the exhibition. Then it, naturally, was Ukraine. Since the annexation of Crimea changed the jurisdiction of museums, there arose a dilemma: who to return the exhibits to? To the museums with which they signed the contracts, or to the country which they belonged to before?
The Ukrainian authorities insisted that the exhibits could not be returned to the “occupied territory”. The Crimean museums answered that artefacts, which they provided, were found in the territory of the peninsula, and must therefore be returned there.
In December 2016, the district court of Amsterdam ruled that all exhibits should be transferred to Ukraine, as “only sovereign states can claim cultural heritage”. Commenting on this decision, the General Director of ‘The Central Museum of Tavrida’ Andrey Malgin told “AiF” that in this case they preferred to prioritise the right of the state property. “But there are also norms of ethics, scientific norms. I am sure that if the case concerned a Western European Museum, such important concepts as the unity of the museum collection or the right of the museum to the operational management of artefacts would have surfaced. They would have also remembered that our museums are older than the state of Ukraine, that we kept these items, that they, ultimately, belong to the land from which they were extracted”, — said Malgin.
Gold ornaments found in Scythian burial mound. Archival photo.
What can happen to the appeal?
The Crimean museums have filed an appeal against the decision of the Amsterdam court. Now the fate of the exhibits will be decided by the Dutch court of appeal. The trial may be delayed for another two months. First, the court will hear the arguments of the parties, then it will have 6 weeks to make a decision. If it is in favour of Kiev, then the President of Ukraine elected this spring (and at the moment Petro Poroshenko has a good chance to keep his post) will receive a generous “gift” from the West on the occasion of his inauguration.
But until the trial is completed, all items from the Crimean collection will still be in the Netherlands. “This process is slow. But hope is always there,” said Aifi Malgin.