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RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 5, No. 97, 01-05-22

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: Newsline Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>

RFE/RL NEWSLINE

Vol. 5, No. 97, 22 May 2001


CONTENTS

[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

  • [01] MINSK GROUP CO-CHAIRS MEET WITH ARMENIAN PRESIDENT...
  • [02] ...AS PEACE AGREEMENT SEEN RECEDING
  • [03] AZERBAIJAN'S DEFENSE MINISTER LEAVES FOR PAKISTAN
  • [04] MILLIONS STOLEN FROM LOCAL BRANCH OF AZERBAIJAN NATIONAL BANK
  • [05] GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTER CALLS ON AZERBAIJAN TO DEMOCRATIZE LAWS
  • [06] PATROLS INCREASED AFTER SHOOT-OUT IN BREAKAWAY NORTH GEORGIAN REGION
  • [07] KYRGYZSTAN EXTENDS INVESTIGATION OF IMPRISONED POLITICAL LEADER...
  • [08] ...AS PRESIDENT SAYS OPPOSITION 'IMPORTANT' IN DEMOCRATIC STATE
  • [09] TURKMENISTAN, U.S. DISCUSS MILITARY COOPERATION

  • [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

  • [10] MACEDONIA CLAIMS SUCCESS AS IT STEPS UP OFFENSIVE AGAINST REBELS
  • [11] ARE REINFORCEMENTS FROM KOSOVA ON THE WAY?
  • [12] ONE PRESEVO REBEL LEADER PLEDGES TO DISBAND FORCES...
  • [13] ...ANOTHER ONE IS ARRESTED
  • [14] PARTY TO SUPPORT MINORITY GOVERNMENT FOR MONTENEGRO
  • [15] CROATIAN RULING COALITION FACES 'TEST'
  • [16] CROATIA RATIFIES WORLD COURT TREATY
  • [17] BOSNIA FEARS U.S. WITHDRAWAL
  • [18] ROMAN TO RESIGN AS ROMANIAN DEMOCRATIC PARTY PARLIAMENTARY LEADER
  • [19] TUDOR APOLOGIZES TO ROMANIAN JEWISH COMMUNITY...
  • [20] ...WHILE FOCUSING ON THE HUNGARIAN MINORITY FOR NOW
  • [21] ROMANIAN SENATE APPEALS TO PUTIN, VORONIN OVER 'ILASCU GROUP'
  • [22] OSCE ROMANIAN OFFICIAL VISITS MOLDOVA
  • [23] FORMER BULGARIAN INTELLIGENCE AGENTS EXPOSED BY PARLIAMENTARY COMMISSION
  • [24] BULGARIAN POLL SHOWS SIMEON'S MOVEMENT STILL AHEAD...
  • [25] ...AND KOSTOV READY FOR (ALMOST) ANY COALITION PARTNERSHIP
  • [26] SIMEON MOVEMENT PRESENTS ECONOMIC, FOREIGN RELATIONS PRIORITIES
  • [27] MIHAILOVA INVITES SIMEON TO REVEAL LIBYAN TRIAL ACTIONS

  • [C] END NOTE

  • [28] GERMANY SEES ONLY SLOW PROGRESS IN REGAINING ART TREASURES

  • [A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

    [01] MINSK GROUP CO-CHAIRS MEET WITH ARMENIAN PRESIDENT...

    The U.S., French, and Russian co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group met for 90 minutes in Yerevan on 21 May with Armenian President Robert Kocharian to discuss the prospects for resolving the Karabakh conflict. The co-chairmen subsequently termed those talks "productive," but failed to specify a date for the next round of talks between themselves, Kocharian, and his Azerbaijani counterpart Heidar Aliev. Those talks had been tentatively scheduled for mid-June in Geneva, but Russian co-chairman Nikolai Gribkov hinted on 20 May that they may be postponed until August or later, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Kocharian for his part underscored the role of Russia in the mediation process and added that he may discuss the peace prospects with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the CIS Collective Security Council session in Yerevan later this month. LF

    [02] ...AS PEACE AGREEMENT SEEN RECEDING

    U.S. co-chairman Carey Cavanaugh said on 20 May that a final peace agreement is "probably" now less close than it appeared to be after the April talks in Key West, because the two presidents are now examining in closer detail the broad principles agreed on in Florida, according to RFE/RL's Armenian Service. He also said that neither Aliev nor Kocharian has made a concerted effort to convince public opinion of the need for a settlement based on compromise, Reuters reported. Kocharian told journalists in Yerevan on 21 May that the reason why he has not made public more details of the peace process is that "this is a sensitive issue and we don't want to arouse expectations that will be difficult to satisfy, because then the disappointment will be greater," Reuters reported. LF

    [03] AZERBAIJAN'S DEFENSE MINISTER LEAVES FOR PAKISTAN

    Colonel General Safar Abiev began a four-day visit to Pakistan on 21 May, during which he will meet with government head Parviz Musharraf, and the foreign, interior, and oil and natural resources ministers, Turan reported. Pakistani diplomats last year rejected as fabricated a Russian press report that Musharraf had offered Aliev military help if Azerbaijan chose to begin a new war to restore its control over Nagorno-Karabakh (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 19 June 2000). LF

    [04] MILLIONS STOLEN FROM LOCAL BRANCH OF AZERBAIJAN NATIONAL BANK

    Over 500 million manats ($100,000) has disappeared from the Yevlakh district branch of the Azerbaijan National Bank, Turan reported on 21 May. The theft was discovered during an internal audit on 18 May. National Bank Board Chairman Elman Rustamov denied reports that the theft was carried out by computer transfer. He said it was the result of "gross" security violations. LF

    [05] GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTER CALLS ON AZERBAIJAN TO DEMOCRATIZE LAWS

    Joschka Fischer made a one-day visit to Baku on 21 May, Turan reported. Fischer told journalists after talks with President Aliev that as a member of the 13-state OSCE Minsk Group, Germany is interested in a solution to the Karabakh conflict as well as to other deadlocked conflicts in the region. He said he discussed with Aliev the course of the negotiating process; regional security issues; bilateral economic cooperation, especially German participation in the privatization of state-owned enterprises; and Azerbaijan's commitments as a newly accepted member of the Council of Europe to bring its laws into conformity with democratic standards. LF

    [06] PATROLS INCREASED AFTER SHOOT-OUT IN BREAKAWAY NORTH GEORGIAN REGION

    The Russian peacekeeping force deployed in the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia has increased from two to seven the number of mobile patrols it will maintain, Caucasus Press reported on 22 May. That decision was made in the wake of a shoot-out late on 13 May between local police and Chechen militants (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May 2001). LF

    [07] KYRGYZSTAN EXTENDS INVESTIGATION OF IMPRISONED POLITICAL LEADER...

    The Prosecutor-General's Office has extended until 6 July the investigation opened in February against imprisoned Ar-Namys party leader Feliks Kulov, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Kulov is suspected of abuse of his official position and inflicting financial damage on the state when he was governor of Chu Oblast in 1995. An investigation opened in 1997 was dropped after the Chu Oblast administration appealed to the Constitutional Court. Kulov was sentenced in January to seven-years imprisonment on similar charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2001). LF

    [08] ...AS PRESIDENT SAYS OPPOSITION 'IMPORTANT' IN DEMOCRATIC STATE

    Speaking in Bishkek on 21 May at a conference to mark the 80th anniversary of the birth of Andrei Sakharov, Kyrgyzstan's President Askar Akaev said that a political opposition should exist in any democratic state and should be able to voice its opinions, Interfax reported. LF

    [09] TURKMENISTAN, U.S. DISCUSS MILITARY COOPERATION

    Visiting U.S. General Tommy Franks held talks on bilateral military cooperation and regional security in Ashgabat on 21 May with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, Interfax reported. Niyazov said bilateral military cooperation must be structured to take into account Turkmenistan's status as a neutral state and the fact that its military doctrine is purely defensive. LF

    [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

    [10] MACEDONIA CLAIMS SUCCESS AS IT STEPS UP OFFENSIVE AGAINST REBELS

    Macedonian troops backed by helicopter gunships and tanks intensified their offensive against ethnic Albanian rebels on 21 May in villages north of Skopje, Reuters reported. The fighting in the area around the villages of Slupcane, Opae, and Vaksince was said to be the most intense in a week. Macedonian army spokesman Colonel Blagoja Markovski said troops destroyed a weapons depot and two rebel jeeps in Opae. He said the insurgents suffered numerous casualties. Markovski said the army responded to mortar attacks by the rebels on Mount Popova Sapka "with artillery and [we] destroyed the terrorist group [there]." Markovski said the army made tentative gains in the northern villages, taking one-third of Opae. Markovski also said there were no army casualties. Fighting was also reported on and in the villages around Mount Sara, near the border with Kosova. PB

    [11] ARE REINFORCEMENTS FROM KOSOVA ON THE WAY?

    The BBC reported on 21 May that British diplomats are "desperately" trying to prevent ethnic Albanian fighters from Kosova from reinforcing the rebel force in Macedonia. British security services were reported to have intercepted a message from leaders of the National Liberation Army that is fighting in Macedonia, in which it says it will expand the front in Macedonia with the help of 1,000 more rebels from Kosova and southern Serbia. Macedonian leaders have accused officials from the disbanded Kosova Liberation Army of being responsible for the organization and supplying of the rebels in Macedonia. PB

    [12] ONE PRESEVO REBEL LEADER PLEDGES TO DISBAND FORCES...

    Shefket Musliu said on 21 May in Konculj that his forces will lay down their weapons and disband by the end of the month because "the time has come...to seek changes through political means," AP reported. Musliu, who commanded militants operating in the Presevo valley area, signed a declaration to "demilitarize, demobilize, and disband no later than 31 May." Shawn Sullivan, NATO's envoy in Yugoslavia, said the signing of the accord by Musliu shows "that through negotiations and confidence-building there is still the possibility for reconciliation." The accord states that the militants -- known as the Liberation Army for Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac -- "were forced to take up arms because of maltreatment of ethnic Albanians by previous Yugoslav authorities...and denial of basic human rights." Serbian Deputy Premier Nebojsa Covic called the signing a "great achievement" and pledged amnesty to all insurgents who hand in their weapons. PB

    [13] ...ANOTHER ONE IS ARRESTED

    Muhamed Xhemajli, a rebel commander and reportedly one of the last to refuse to disband his ethnic Albanian troops in the Presevo valley region, was arrested on 21 May in the buffer zone as he tried to enter Kosova, AP reported. It is not clear if he was arrested by Serbian security forces or NATO-led peacekeepers. Serbian Deputy Premier Covic said his arrest "creates full conditions for the entry of our forces into the buffer zone" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 2001). Meanwhile, the Yugoslav government began a training program the same day for an interethnic police force. The course is being led by OSCE instructors and members of the Belgrade Police Academy. The first class includes seven ethnic Albanians and seven Serbs. The police force is to be used only in the Presevo valley, and it is envisaged to eventually be made up of 400 members. PB

    [14] PARTY TO SUPPORT MINORITY GOVERNMENT FOR MONTENEGRO

    Slavko Perovic, a leader of the small Liberal Alliance, said on 21 May in Podgorica that his party will back the formation of a minority government in Montenegro, Reuters reported. The Liberal Alliance will have six deputies in the 77-seat parliament when it convenes on 25 May. The pro- independence coalition Victory is Montenegro's now has 36 seats. Talks between the two parties to form a coalition government were unsuccessful (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 2001). Perovic said his party's announcement "gives this political grouping the possibility to preserve absolute power in Montenegro and respect pre-election promises given to Montenegrin voters about scheduling a referendum on Montenegrin independence." PB

    [15] CROATIAN RULING COALITION FACES 'TEST'

    As official results continue to clarify the outcome of local elections held on 20 May, the reformist coalition led by Prime Minister Ivica Racan's Social Democrats appears set to take power in at least 15 out of 21 counties, despite the nationalist Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) emerging as the strongest single party in the country, AP and Reuters reported. "The ruling coalition faces a test," said Racan, adding that the coalition will be able to rule only if its members "stick to their positions to form alliances among ourselves." Though the HDZ won 14 of 21 counties, it will only be able to retain control of two former war zones. DW

    [16] CROATIA RATIFIES WORLD COURT TREATY

    On 21 May, Croatia became the 32nd country -- and the first in Eastern Europe -- to ratify the International Criminal Court treaty, Reuters reported. When the treaty's statutes have been approved by the parliaments of 60 states, the treaty will come into force. While most Western countries have ratified the treaty, the U.S. Congress has yet to do so, and has prohibited U.S. military personnel from participating in UN peacekeeping missions unless they are exempt from prosecution by the court. DW

    [17] BOSNIA FEARS U.S. WITHDRAWAL

    The government of Bosnia-Herzegovina is "definitely worried" by reports that U.S. officials are considering withdrawing U.S. peacekeepers from the country, an official from the Bosnian joint Foreign Ministry told Reuters. The official referred to an interview with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in "The Washington Post" on 18 May, in which he said the "military job was done three or four years ago" and he is "pushing" for the withdrawal of the 3,300 U.S. peacekeepers in Bosnia from the 20,000-strong NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR). "We need strong support from the international community and SFOR troops have a clear role to play," the Bosnian official said. DW

    [18] ROMAN TO RESIGN AS ROMANIAN DEMOCRATIC PARTY PARLIAMENTARY LEADER

    Senator Petre Roman, who lost the contest for the Democratic Party's chairmanship on 19 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 2001) on 22 May told Mediafax that he will resign as leader of the party's parliamentary group in the Senate. Roman said he has "postponed" his resignation "only to avoid media speculations" that he intends to leave the party, which he denies. He said that apart from his Senate membership, in the future he intends to be very active in the ongoing research being conducted by the Institute for Democratic Studies, of which he is a founding member. The institute, he said, is "above ideological disputes." Roman also said he will "not give interviews and will not participate in polemics." MS

    [19] TUDOR APOLOGIZES TO ROMANIAN JEWISH COMMUNITY...

    Corneliu Vadim Tudor, leader of the extremist Greater Romania Party (PRM), on 21 May apologized in the Senate for the "macabre and inadmissible" dissemination of a collection of jokes compiled by PRM Cluj City Councilor Ioan Marinescu. Two of the jokes included in the book make light of the Nazi use of ovens, and one of them compares Jews to pizzas. Israeli Ambassador to Romania Avi Millo complained about the book, which was published by the Cluj-based Hiparion publishing house in over 22,000 copies and the Prosecutor-General's Office has launched an investigation. Tudor, who in the past has similarly banalized the Holocaust, said Marinescu has been sanctioned with "a serious warning" and will be expelled from the PRM if he makes similar remarks in the future, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

    [20] ...WHILE FOCUSING ON THE HUNGARIAN MINORITY FOR NOW

    The PRM parliamentary groups in the two chambers of Romania's parliament demanded on 21 May the urgent placement on the agenda of a PRM draft bill postponing the implementation of the Law on Local Public Administration till after the census planned for 2002, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The PRM says the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) intends to "change the names" of over 1,000 settlements in Romania under the pretext that more than 20 percent of their inhabitants belong to the national minorities. The PRM also claims that the UDMR intends to change names of streets "in an illegal action, since this requires the prior approval by the parliament." UDMR Senator Gyorgy Frunda said in reaction that the law clearly stipulates that changing street names is a prerogative of the local authorities and that the PRM is "creating a false problem." MS

    [21] ROMANIAN SENATE APPEALS TO PUTIN, VORONIN OVER 'ILASCU GROUP'

    At the initiative of the PRM, the Senate on 21 May thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin and Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin for their "contribution to the liberation of our colleague Ilie Ilascu" from his detainment in Tiraspol. At the same time, the Senate appealed to Putin and Voronin to "use the authority of your function to bring about the immediate release from the Tiraspol prison of the other ['Ilascu Group'] detained -- Alexandru Lesca, Tudor Petrov-Popa, and Andrei Ivantoc." MS

    [22] OSCE ROMANIAN OFFICIAL VISITS MOLDOVA

    OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Chairman Adrian Severin, on a three-day visit to Moldova, met on 21 May in Tiraspol with the leaders of the breakaway region, Romanian Radio reported on the next day. Severin said after the meeting that "although our principles remain unchanged," it has been important "to listen to all sides, even when we disagree." Upon his arrival in Chisinau on 20 May, Severin said his visit was aimed at "identifying the parameters for extending Moldova concrete help to safeguard its whole territorial integrity." He said that in order to bring about a solution to the conflict "one should talk less of pressure systems and more of persuasion systems, less of forcing people do certain things and more of creating conditions that allow all to live in peace and security, without putting pressure on others." Before traveling to Tiraspol for talks with the separatist leadership, Severin met with Moldovan Foreign Minister Nicolae Cernomaz. He is meeting President Voronin and Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev on his return from Tiraspol on 22 May. MS

    [23] FORMER BULGARIAN INTELLIGENCE AGENTS EXPOSED BY PARLIAMENTARY COMMISSION

    A parliamentary commission on 21 May concluded that 52 people who since 1989 were deputies and ministers had previously served the country's communist secret services, AP reported. Six of these are running for seats in the June parliamentary elections. Among those exposed was Ahmed Dogan, leader of the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS). Dogan said the commission's revelations are a "manipulation" and that he will not withdraw from the parliamentary race. Also on the list are Aleksandar Staliiski, who was defense minister in the minority United Democratic Forces (ODS) government in 1992, and Rumen Gechev, a former deputy premier in the Socialist government. Under the law, no action can be taken against the former secret police collaborators other than revealing their names. Interior Ministry officials estimate that some 40 percent of the files were destroyed by security officials after the fall of communism in 1989. MS

    [24] BULGARIAN POLL SHOWS SIMEON'S MOVEMENT STILL AHEAD...

    A public opinion poll conducted by the MBMD institute shows the National Movement Simeon II still leading the field of parties competing in the June parliamentary elections, BTA reported on 20 May. The former monarch's movement is backed by 41 percent, followed by the ODS, with 20 percent. In third place is the Bulgarian Socialist Party (15 percent). The only other formation likely to pass the 4 percent threshold is the DPS, but MBMD Director Miroslava Yanova said that a high turnout on election day might result in the DPS's "just missing" the threshold. Yanova emphasized that the poll was conducted before the former monarch announced that he will not be running for the parliament. She said this may result in a drop in the support for his movement. MS

    [25] ...AND KOSTOV READY FOR (ALMOST) ANY COALITION PARTNERSHIP

    ODS leader and incumbent Premier Ivan Kostov said he "does not rule out any coalition agreement," except with "former communist parties," BTA reported on 20 May, citing Bulgarian media reports. The daily "Trud" interpreted the statement to signify that "Kostov does not rule out a coalition with Simeon" and the daily "Monitor" wrote that "If the ODS coalesces with the National Movement Simeon II, this would make the politically inexperienced Simeon into a powerful backstage player when it comes to the formation of the cabinet." MS

    [26] SIMEON MOVEMENT PRESENTS ECONOMIC, FOREIGN RELATIONS PRIORITIES

    The National Movement Simeon II on 21 May presented its economic and foreign policy priorities, BTA and Reuters reported. Nikolai Vasiliev, who heads the movement's economic team, said its economic program is "both bold and radical." He said the program envisages a "zero budget deficit" and preserving the country's Currency Board. At the same time, "we plan a radical tax reform and achieving dynamic, even explosive economic growth" through attracting foreign investments and completing privatization. Solomon Passy, who heads the movement's lists for the elections, said NATO and EU membership will make up the foreign policy priorities. Passy said "relations with Ukraine are just as important as those with Russia, and in some respects even more important." MS

    [27] MIHAILOVA INVITES SIMEON TO REVEAL LIBYAN TRIAL ACTIONS

    Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova on 21 May invited Simeon to the Foreign Ministry, asking him to share with her information on his activities on behalf of the six Bulgarians currently on trial in Libya for allegedly infecting children with the HIV virus, BTA reported. Mihailova said she has "learned from the press" that Simeon has "long taken steps you believe to be in the interests of the detained" and voiced the hope that he would share with her that information in her capacity of coordinator of the efforts to aid the Bulgarians on trial there. MS

    [C] END NOTE

    [28] GERMANY SEES ONLY SLOW PROGRESS IN REGAINING ART TREASURES

    By Roland Eggleston

    German culture officials are distressed that negotiations with Russia on the return of works of art taken during World War II have virtually ground to a halt. According to the Germans, an international conference on trophy art that was held in Moscow earlier this month failed to make any progress and, in the view of some, demonstrated a Russian reluctance to return art works to Germany, Hungary, Poland, and other countries.

    It is believed that Russia still holds more than 134,000 works of art removed from Germany by Soviet troops. They include paintings by van Gogh and Degas, sculptures, paintings, and centuries-old books -- including a Gutenburg bible. Russia also allegedly retains thousands of similar items taken from Hungary, Poland, and other East European countries.

    Negotiations between Russia and Germany have been underway since 1991 but have produced very limited results thus far. Negotiations with other countries have been equally unsuccessful, as their representatives made clear at the Moscow conference.

    During the May conference, Germany was represented for the first time not only by art experts but also by a team of lawyers who tried to find ways around Russia's restrictions. They proposed, among other things, a Russian- German exhibition in Germany with a guarantee by Berlin that the works would be returned to Russia. They also revived the long-discarded idea of a Russian-German foundation to administer the art works now in Russian hands.

    A German lawyer, Karin Wollmann, said the proposals fell mainly on deaf ears. She said some of the Russian participants showed interest in the German suggestions, but most of the officials did not. She said a senior official at Russia's Culture Ministry, Yurii Titov, left the impression that it could be a long time before all the hurdles are overcome. "Russia has always been reluctant to return these works of art, but now the negotiations have virtually come to a standstill. It is difficult to see what we can do to invigorate them," Wollmann said.

    The Moscow conference ended without any progress being made on claims by Germany, Hungary, Poland, or other countries.

    Germany's only real success in the decade-long negotiations over the looted art came last year, when Russia issued an export license for drawings and engravings that were taken from the Bremen Kunsthalle. The drawings and graphic prints included works by Durer, Goya, Manet, Toulouse- Lautrec, Delacroix, and several Dutch and Flemish artists. The heirs of the Soviet officer who took them gave them to the German Embassy in 1993, but Russian law had prevented their return.

    The return was made possible by changes in Russian law to differentiate between officially collected Soviet spoils or war and looting by individual Soviet soldiers.

    German negotiators, however, have not been able to retrieve another 362 drawings, which were taken by a former Soviet officer, Viktor Baldin. They include works by Durer, Goya, and other world-renowned artists. The works are believed to be in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, where 138 of them were exhibited in 1992.

    Germany's primary goal is now the return of the 14th-century stained-glass windows that once graced the Marienkirche in the eastern German city of Frankfurt an der Oder. They are now in storage at the Hermitage.

    The German Culture Ministry in Berlin says negotiations for the return of the windows have been underway for some time. But the director of the Hermitage, Mikhail Piotrovskii, has said he first wants to exhibit them to the Russian public. The windows are important for art historians for their depiction of the life of the Antichrist in a parody of the life of Jesus.

    The German Culture Ministry says it still hopes that Russia will act generously because of the help given by Germany in the restoration of the famous Amber Room at Tsarskoye Selo near St. Petersburg. It was dismantled by German troops in 1941 and sent to Kaliningrad, where many pieces disappeared after heavy fighting near the end of the war. Most experts believe the bulk of the room was probably destroyed in a fire.

    The room is being recreated with the help of a $3.5 million grant from the giant German gas company, Ruhrgas. Germany has also returned a mosaic and a chest of drawers from the Amber Room that turned up in Germany

    The Moscow conference also heard from Hungarian cultural experts seeking the return of books, paintings, porcelain, statues, and other goods taken from the collections of wealthy families and from banks, museums, churches, and museums. The Culture Ministry in Budapest has published a list of more than 3,000 items known to have been taken.

    By chance, the conference happened to coincide with an exhibition in Moscow of some of these valuable old Hungarian books and manuscripts. They were once the pride of the library at the protestant college at Szaroszpatak in northeast Hungary. They have been stored since the war in the Volga River city of Nizhnii Novgorod. Hungarian church authorities had placed the most valuable volumes and prints in two Budapest banks for safety, but they were discovered when the banks were looted. Among them are 16th- and 17th-century religious prints published in Utrecht.

    German lawyer Wollmann says a major problem is that Russian authorities actually discourage individuals from returning art treasures in the way the heirs of the officer who took the Bremen drawings returned them to the German Embassy. She said that when the issue came up at the Moscow conference, Russian culture official Titov said the task of returning the works of art should be left to his ministry.

    "One serious problem is that the Russian authorities want to keep everything under the control of the Ministry of Culture," Wollmann said. "We know of private individuals who want to return works of art directly without too much bureaucracy, but the ministry strongly opposes such initiatives."

    An official of the German Culture Ministry -- who asked not to be identified -- told RFE/RL that despite the problems, current Russian law does allow some opportunities for museums and even individuals to apply for the return of their collections.

    But the official warned that it would not be easy. He said that in most cases months, and possibly years, of patient and imaginative negotiations will be required before an agreement is reached that would satisfy both sides.

    Roland Eggleston is a Munich-based freelance correspondent for RFE/RL.

    22-05-01


    Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
    URL: http://www.rferl.org


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