T H E     D O C U M E N T A T I O N     P R O J E C T

Project for the
Documentation of
Wartime Cultural Losses


The Russian Law on Cultural Property
Displaced to the U.S.S.R.
as a Result of World War II


  On April 15, 1998, the Russian parliament enacted legislation concerning the treatment to be accorded cultural property seized by Soviet troops and removed to the U.S.S.R. during and at the end of World War II. This law represents the culmination of numerous attempts by the Russian Duma and Federation Council to nationalize the "trophy art" and cultural property now in Russia. This action has been taken to establish the Russian Federation's right to "compensatory restitution" for the damages it incurred as a result of World War II.

  In 1995, a version of the bill was adopted by the Federation Council but received an inconclusive reading in the Duma. In 1996, the Duma passed another version of the bill, which was defeated in the Federation Council. In 1997, a version was passed by both houses, but President Boris Yeltsin vetoed the bill. Although his veto was overridden by both the Duma and Federation Council, he refused to sign the bill into law. In April 1998, the Constitutional Court ordered Yeltsin to sign the law, which was then published in Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the government's official newspaper. The law came into force on April 21, 1998, the date of its official publication.1

  Yeltsin subsequently referred the law to the Constitutional Court, which will rule on its constitutionality within the framework of the constitution of the Russian Federation and tenets of international law. Opponents of the law have cited a number of objections, including the law's apparent conflict with the right to private property under the Russian constitution and with international treaties to which the Russian Federation is a party.2

  The law, entitled "Federal Law on Cultural Valuables Displaced to the U.S.S.R. as a Result of World War II and Located on the Territory of the Russian Federation," provides for the return, subject to stringent terms and conditions, of certain "cultural valuables" to foreign governments and families, and the nationalization of the rest by the Russian Federation. According to Article 9, section 1 of this law, claims for the return of property other than family heirlooms must be filed within 18 months of the law's entry into force.

  Out of concern for the limited attention that has been paid to this law, and in the interest of disseminating information about it to all who may be interested, The Documentation Project here reproduces the law in its official Russian version and in an exact English translation.3 We have appended a detailed summary of the law, along with a "checklist" of practical concerns for potential claimants, prepared with the assistance of our legal counsel, Herrick, Feinstein LLP of New York, specialists in cultural property restitution cases.4 The summary and checklist focus on some major aspects of the law, although we wish to point out that the commentary presented here must necessarily be seen as preliminary. We look forward to supplementing this information as we learn more about how the law is construed and put into practice.

  It is important to note that the deadline under the law for submission of all claims other than those for family heirlooms is October 21, 1999. Although it has been suggested that this deadline may be extended, 5 there has been no official notification of any extension, and those wishing to have claims filed are advised to do so as soon as possible.

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