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


A Few Initial Words of Caution

  As noted above, the period for making claims under the key provisions of the law expires very soon--on October 21, 1999. In light of this time restriction, we thought it would be helpful to set forth a brief checklist of items under the law that should be considered immediately by those individuals who owned, or whose ancestors owned, property that was seized by Soviet forces and that is currently in the Russian Federation. We must warn all potential claimants, however, that the procedures to be followed under the law and the construction to be given to many of its provisions are somewhat unclear at present. We intend to make every effort to obtain clarification of these procedures and provisions and to disseminate such information on this website as it becomes available. For now, however, potential claimants should consider the following:

1. Find the best evidence available to support your claim.

  Gather any and all documents that demonstrate your or your family's ownership of the item or items in question at the time they were seized (either by the forces of Germany and its allies or by those of the Soviet Union), as well as any documents that evidence such seizure. Originals or copies of photographs or drawings, wills, bills of sale, official inventories, insurance documents, probate or other court proceedings, museum or gallery catalogues, and even private letters or diaries can help to establish your right to the property. In addition, speak to surviving family members who may recall important information about the items and/or their seizure, or who were told information by others. An affidavit recounting pertinent facts, whether based on personal knowledge or otherwise, may be useful, especially if there is little or no better evidence available.

2. Carefully review the law and summary above to determine the basis of your claim.

  Note that the law distinguishes between family heirlooms and other types of cultural property. If your items would likely be considered family heirlooms, such as family archives, photographs, letters, decorations and awards, or portraits of family members, you apparently do not have a right under the law to their return, but you may apply to the Federal Body for their return on humanitarian grounds. There does not appear to be any time limit imposed for such "heirloom" applications; the October 21, 1999 deadline for other types of cultural property apparently does not apply. If you wish to claim family heirlooms, you must demonstrate that you are an authorized representative of your family, which may require legal documents showing succession rights and/or written authorizations (for example, powers of attorney) signed by any family members who could be in a position to claim the property.

  If you wish to claim property that you believe falls into one of the three categories specified in Article 8 of the law and summarized above, you should be prepared to demonstrate that the property fits into one of those categories and meets all of the required terms and conditions. In addition, you will not be able to file this claim on your own behalf, as you could if the items were heirlooms. All claims other than those for heirlooms can be made only by governmental authorities; the governments to which the law expressly refers are those of "former enemy states" (Germany, Bulgaria, Hungary, Italy, Romania and Finland) and of "interested states," defined as those whose territories were partially or fully occupied by the forces of former enemy states. Other states may also be able to make claims. In this connection, the United States has begun to submit claims on behalf of its citizens and will continue to do so (see #5 below). (There are additional provisions relating to claims asserted by the Republic of Belarus, the Latvian Republic, the Lithuanian Republic, the Republic of Moldova, Ukraine and the Estonian Republic, as indicated.)

  It will therefore be necessary for a claimant to contact the appropriate governmental body to assert a claim on his or her behalf. This aspect of the law, while critical, leaves many questions unanswered as to which governments may make which claims on behalf of which owners of seized property, not to mention whether or how private individuals or entities can obtain possession and rights of ownership from a government that has succeeded in recovering their property. Also, the successful recovery of such cultural property is subject to certain obligations that the claimant governments must undertake concerning their mutual treatment of cultural property claimed by the Russian Federation, as specified in the law and the summary above. What precisely will be required and whether the claimant governments will be able to comply are also open questions at this point. We hope to be able to provide additional information about these important issues soon.

3. Anticipate required payments if your claim is successful.

  If successful, claimant states will be required to reimburse the Russian Federation for expenses relating to the identification, expert examination, storage and restoration of the claimed cultural property, as well as the costs of transfer such as transportation costs (and, we anticipate, the claimant state may then seek to recover such expenses and costs from the individuals on whose behalf the claim was asserted). These costs could be substantial. Claimants of family heirlooms will also be responsible for paying these costs, as well as an amount equivalent to the "value" of the heirlooms recovered; on the other hand, successful state claimants of other types of cultural property will apparently receive this property without having to pay the equivalent "value."

4. If you have reason to believe that your property is or may be located on the territory of the Russian Federation, take steps now to have your claim filed before the October 21, 1999 deadline.

  There is no provision in the law restricting the claims process to that property currently acknowledged to be in the Russian Federation. If you have reason to believe that your property might have been seized and removed to the Russian Federation, take steps to have a claim filed--you have nothing to lose. If, in the future, your property is found to be in the Russian Federation, such property will apparently be eligible for return under the law only if a claim for that property has been filed before the October 21, 1999 deadline.

5. Contact the appropriate department or agency within your national government to have your claim submitted.

  The United States government has begun to file claims, on behalf of its citizens, with the Russian Federation. Claims are filed through the U.S. Department of State, which will submit such claims on behalf of U.S. citizen claimants. However, claimants themselves are responsible for gathering and organizing their supporting evidence and for writing a narrative presenting their claims for conveyance to the U.S. Department of State. Although U.S. claimants are not required to retain legal counsel in the preparation of their claims, they may wish to do so, as the State Department will not provide detailed legal assistance or argue cases for individual claimants.

United States citizens may contact:

Judith L. Osborn
Office of the Legal Adviser
U.S. Department of State
Washington, D.C. 20520
Tel: 202-647-5154
Fax: 202-647-6794

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