Russian parliament tentatively approves return of medieval stained glass windows to Germany

AP 25 January 2008

MOSCOW (AP) - Russia's parliament took the first step Friday toward authorizing the return of six 14th century stained glass panels from a church in Germany that were seized after World War II.

"By handing over these six panels we will help restore the true historic image of a major European cultural monument," said Grigory Ivliyev, head of the cultural affairs committee of the State Duma, the lower house of Parliament.

The Duma voted tentative approval of a bill that would see the return of the panels to the Marienkirche in the city of Frankfurt an der Oder in northern Germany at the Polish border.

Germany's culture minister, Bernd Neumann, said this was an «important step.

"I await with great joy the completion of the Marienkirche windows in Frankfurt as an incomparable treasure of the Gothic era," Neumann said in a statement. "The process makes it clear that patience is important in the question of the return of looted art."

In 2002, Russia returned 111 stained-glass panels from the same church. They had been held in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. Authorities later discovered that Moscow's Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts held six more panels from the 20-meter-high (65-foot-high) altar, which were among the items Germany most wanted returned as the church marked its 750th anniversary in 2003.

The bill needs to pass two more readings in the Duma and be approved by the upper house before it goes to President Vladimir Putin for signing.

Russia and Germany have long sparred over thousands of valuable objects taken from Germany in the waning days of World War II.

Germany and other countries have pressed for the return of the collections, which they argue were taken illegally. But Russia has proclaimed the art seized as a rightful retribution for the 27 million Soviet lives lost, 100 museums destroyed and utter ruin of entire cities during the conflict it calls the Great Patriotic War.

Russia has urged Germany to search for and return Russian art seized by the Nazis, and the two nations have accelerated exchanges of looted art in recent years.
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