Yeltsin likely to veto law on art seized from Germany

MOSCOW, March 3 (JTA) — Russian President Boris Yeltsin is likely to veto a measure declaring art treasures seized from Germany after World War II to be Russian property. However, the lawmakers who drafted the bill passed by the Duma, the lower house of Parliament, plan to call for a national referendum if Yeltsin vetoes the law. Nikolai Gubenko, deputy chairman of the Communist-dominated Duma’s culture committee, who was the bill’s main author, was quoted as saying that Yeltsin was preparing to veto the law to preserve good Russian-German relations. The sensitive issue of restitution of works of art taken by the Soviet army has been a subject of negotiations between Moscow and Germany since 1990, but talks have yielded little progress. Gubenko said that if Yeltsin uses his veto, the question could be resolved by a referendum. Six years ago, Gubenko, who at the time was the Soviet minister of culture, categorically refused to return a major book collection to the Lubavitch movement. The Schneerson library, which consists of 12,000 volumes of books and manuscripts that had been collected by five generations of Lubavitch rebbes, is now stored in the Russian State Library, formerly known as the Lenin Library. The disputed collection had been confiscated in the early 1920s by Soviet authorities and transferred to the Lenin Library. The Lubavitch movement has been battling in the Moscow courts since 1990 for the return of the books.

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