Russian president battles Parliament over trophy art

MOSCOW, July 2 (JTA) — Russian President Boris Yeltsin has rejected a controversial “trophy art” bill for a third time. The bill, which was overwhelmingly approved by the Russian Parliament, claims Russia’s ownership of artworks taken by Soviet troops from Nazi Germany at the end of World War II. Yeltsin vetoed the bill in February, and legislators in both houses of Parliament voted to override the veto. Yeltsin, claiming procedural errors in the voting, refused to sign the bill and sent it back to the legislature. Lawmakers refused to vote again on the law and returned it to Yeltsin. According to presidential spokesman Sergey Yastrzhembsky, Yeltsin sent the legislation back to the Communist-dominated Parliament again this week, citing the same objections. At the end of the war, the Soviet Union dispatched special teams to collect thousands of paintings and rare books, as well as archival material that included manuscripts and photographs, from the defeated Nazis. Some of the so-called “trophy art” belonged to Germany, but some had been looted by Hitler’s troops from countries overrun by the Nazis. The trophy art is significant to the Jewish community outside of Russia because some of the looted works may originally have been taken from their Jewish owners by the Nazis. In its present form, the bill states that any nation demanding the return of artworks taken by the Soviet army must first send a formal request to be approved by the Russian Parliament. The bill has angered Germany, Russia’s biggest creditor, which has long sought to recover the 200,000 pieces of art valued at some $65 billion. In 1990, Germany and the Soviet Union signed a friendship treaty that included provisions for the mutual restitution of war plunder.

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