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Putin says Jewish manuscripts should stay in Russia

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The Art Newspaper 19 February 2013
By Sophie Kishkovsky

The Russian president suggests moving the Schneerson collection to the newly built Jewish Museum in Moscow to avoid a political “stalemate” over restitution


Putin at Moscow's new Jewish Museum. Photo: © RIA Novosti/Alexei Druzhinin

While visiting Moscow’s Jewish Museum Tuesday, 19 January, the Russian president Vladimir Putin suggested that the disputed Schneerson collection of books and manuscripts be transferred to the centre, instead of turning it over to the Brooklyn-based Jewish group Chabad, as ordered by a US court. "The Schneerson library doesn't belong to any specific Jewish community. It belongs to the Russian state," Putin said, according the Russian press.

“We are at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center right now… and I am ready to formulate the necessary instructions to the government and ministry of culture so as to house this library in the center,” Putin said.

Sending the collection to the Brooklyn group would open a “Pandora’s box” of restitution claims, Putin added. “Right now, in my view, we are absolutely not ready for this. It is impossible,” Putin said.

“This is a serious step towards accommodating those people who truly want to solve this problem and not use it as a pretext for inflaming passions, for confrontation,” he said, adding: “we wouldn’t want a stalemate over this situation”.

Last week, the foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, recommended that two Russian agencies sue the US Library of Congress in retaliation for $50,000 a day sanctions against Russia, ordered by a Washington court in January for the country’s failure to return the libraries to the Brooklyn group. Putin did not mention these actions specifically, but did blame the confrontations on “unjust rulings by the judicial authorities of another country”.

The Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center opened in November in a landmark Constructivist bus depot that formerly housed Dasha Zhukova’s Garage Center for Contemporary Culture from 2008-2011. The Moscow branch of Chabad is known for its strong support of Putin, who attended the opening.

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