On 5 February, the Duma, the lower house of the Russian Parliament, passed a bill to nationalise the art booty taken from Germany at the end of the World War II and to require an Act of Parliament to authorise each restitution. The bill was approved by an overwhelming majority. In order to become law it must, however, also be approved by the Federal Council, the upper house, and be signed by Boris Yeltsin. The bill is very similar to the one adopted by the Duma in July 1996 but rejected by the Federal Council. A spokesman for the Bonn government recalled that Chancellor Kohl, after his meeting with Yeltsin in January, declared, “This problem should be solved at long last by the end of the year”. The spokesman added, “The Federal Republic deplores what has happened”.
This represents the latest twist in the saga of the restitution of missing art treasures. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, German-Soviet relations improved, leading to the November 1990 General Relations Treaty which stated: “Art treasures missing or unlawfully transferred will be returned to their owners or heirs” (Art. 16). The same principle was established in the December 1992 Treaty (The Art Newspaper, Nos. 8 and 9, May and June 1991, pp.1-2 and p.2). In 1993 a committee was set up to unravel the matter, but progress has been slow. It was possible to establish which were the few works of art owned by Russia still in Germany and, according to Dr Blaum, a former member of the committee, it has been possible to establish and view what is in the stores of the Moscow and St Petersburg museums. Progress has been hindered, however, by the changing political mood within the former Soviet Union and the continued opposition of the Pushkin Museum.
Dr Goldmann says: “It is a matter to be resolved at the highest political level but I remain optimistic”. Mr Ritter believes that the subject will be on the agenda of the next Kohl-Yeltsin meeting next month.