Law Note: Netherlands Court Rules Crimean Gold Must Go To Ukraine

Gold Scythian pendant, courtesy Allard Pierson Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Exhibition: De Krim – Goud en Geheimen van de Zwarte Zee, Allard Pierson Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

The Dutch Supreme Court ruled on June 9, 2023 that over 1000 gold objects from Ukraine that had been on loan to Amsterdam’s Allard Pierson Museum in 2014, when Russia invaded Crimea, should be returned to Ukraine. The Supreme Court upheld an earlier lower court decision, saying the museum “must return these artistic treasures to the State of Ukraine and not to the museums in Crimea.”

In 2021, Cultural Property News reported:

“The objects were on loan from four different museums in Crimea and one museum in Kiev. The exhibition, The Crimea: Gold and Secrets from the Black Sea, included a wide range of artifacts, from Scythian goldwork to a Chinese lacquer box (which arrived in Crimea along ancient trade routes). The Scythian gold material in the exhibition included some of the most extraordinary and beautifully executed artworks known from the Scythian world. The exhibition was scheduled to be brief and the museum planned to return the objects just a few months later, in May, but it was extended due to uncertainty created by the Russian Federation’s invasion of Crimea, which began in late February 2014.

Scythian amimal-style applique, gold. Allard Pierson Museum photo.

The Allard Pierson Museum then announced that it was not preparing to return the artifacts, because the conflict in Ukraine had produced multiple claimants for them. Both the Ukrainian and Russian governments declared themselves the rightful owners. The Russian claim was based upon its control of the Crimea, where the lending museums were located, as well as through claiming cultural affinity with the ancient cultures which created the objects. Ukraine likewise held that it had the primary historical connection to the objects because the museums were under Ukrainian governance at the time of the loan and in any case, Russia’s claim to Crimea was illegitimate, the product of an unjustified invasion.

The loan agreements between the lending museums and the two museums to which the objects travelled describes the loaned objects as part of the “Museum Fund of Ukraine.” The agreement includes a statement that the receiving museums “realize that the exhibits of the exhibition are the property of Ukraine and world civilization and shall take all possible measures to avoid their loss and damage.[1]

Scythian gold objects. Allard Pierson Museum.

For much more, see CPN’s 2021 feature article, Dutch Court: Scythian Gold from Crimea Should Go to Ukraine

[1] Evelien Campfens and Irina Tarsis, CRI-ME-A-RIVER! Crimean Gold in the Crosshairs of Geopolitics, IFAR Journal, Vol. 18, No. 1, 2017, 40.

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