February 28, 2013

The Court of the District of Columbia & the Chabad jews – a possible solution to the Parthenon Marbles case?

Posted at 2:29 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

Paul Barford raises an interesting question on his blog, regarding a recent case in the USA. Essentially, the gist of the post relates back to an earlier story, about the fallout from a court case in the courts of the District of Columbia.

The case was brought by Chabad Jews, who have been campaigning for the return of two collections of books & manuscripts from Russia since the 1980s. They filed a lawsuit in 2004. In July 2010, the court ordered the Russia to return the library & archives to Chabad. At this point, Russia ignored the judgement. A month ago, on 16th January 2013, the same court sanctioned the Russian Government $50,00 per day for not complying with their ruling.

Since then, Russia’s foreign ministry has taken the retaliatory move, of recommending that two government agencies sue the US Library of Congress. If this case was to proceed, it would take place in a Russian court. It is taken against the Library of Congress, because through the inter-library loans programme (of which the LOC was the conduit), in 1994, seven books were lent to the Shabad group & never returned.

Russia has also taken the move of placing an embargo on any loans to museums in the USA, due to fears that artefacts will be seized.

Now, I’m not at all sure at this stage what the outcome of all this will be – but, the fact remains, that sanctions taken in a court outside the home country still have a potential to provoke a reaction.

Previously, I have been party to suggestions that a similar move could be taken by the Greek Government against the British Museum & the District of Columbia was mentioned as one possible jurisdiction under which this might take place. Now, I’m hoping that if it did take place, it would follower a calmer course than the current case, but it is indisputable, that the threat of legal action based on this precedent would be a strong incentive to negotiate.

Part of the problem with the Parthenon Marbles case, is that there has never been enough pressure placed against the British Museum / British Government. Essentially, they don’t feel that they currently have to respond to anything. If requests for negotiations are ever issued by Greece, these are closed out fairly quickly by laying down pre-conditions that Greece will never agree to – essentially asking them to give up something before the discussions can even start. Something needs to be done to show the British Museum that Greece means business – that the issue will not just go away.

Italy did not succeed in their requests against the US, until initiating legal action – although in many cases, the (serious) threat of legal action was eough to start off proper negotiations leading to the settlement i.e. it never actually went to court.

Clearly, in the case of the Chabad Jews (of which much more could be written), negotiating was off the agenda, as the case is being pursued to the bitter end, & looks like it could develop into a full blown diplomatic incident if one side doesn’t back down. Essentially (from the perspective of an outsider) they have taken a weapon & used it unwisely – and could end up blowing off their own feet in the process.

Notwithstanding the above point though, the fact remains – the legal route offers a path to negotiation & resolution of the case that has not yet been properly explored. Greece has tried the gentle discussions route for years & made little progress – so perhaps it is now time to take a different tack?

The Art Newspaper

Russian agencies move to sue US Library of Congress
Threatened lawsuits could result in sanctions against the US, in retaliation for $50,000 per day penalties against Russia
By Laura Gilbert. Web only
Published online: 12 February 2013

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has recommended that two Russian government agencies sue the US Library of Congress, the news agency Pravda reported Friday. The move, seemingly in retaliation for US court-ordered sanctions against Russia costing $50,000 per day, is the latest twist in the ongoing dispute between the Brooklyn-based Jewish group Chabad and Russia.

Chabad has been trying to obtain two collections of Jewish books and manuscripts from Russia since the 1980s and filed a lawsuit in 2004. On 16 January, a Washington, DC District Court sanctioned the Russian government $50,000 per day because Russia had not followed the court’s July 2010 order to turn over the library and archive to Chabad. Shortly after the order, Russia initiated an embargo, which is still in effect, on lending art to American museums, claiming it feared Chabad would seize its art in order to enforce the judgment. American museums responded by refusing to loan art works to Russian institutions. Chabad, for its part, says it will not claim Russian art that is immune from seizure under US law but would enforce the judgment by seizing other Russian property in the US and through monetary sanctions.

The newly threatened lawsuits would be brought in a Russian court and, if successful, would allow Russia to sanction the US. The suits would be brought against the Library of Congress as the conduit for an international interlibrary loan in 1994 of seven books from Russia to Chabad, which were never returned, Russia said. Alexander Samarin, the deputy director of the Russian State Library, characterised the loan as a good will gesture, Pravda reported.

“The Russian State Library’s actions are expected to be symmetrical to the actions of the American side. They are expected to file a lawsuit with a Moscow court. If it finds the Library of Congress guilty of purloining the books and the financial claim is not settled, that will be a basis for Russia to demand the seizure of the non-immune American property abroad,” the Kremlin-funded English-language news channel Russia Today reported.

Expressing immediate outrage at the US court’s order of sanctions in January, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said: “We will seek to make a reciprocal move. This [situation] should not be left without reaction.”

When asked about the loan in 2011, a Library of Congress spokeswoman said that it had “received seven books in January 1994 pursuant to an international interlibrary loan from the Russian State Library for 60 days. In January 1994, Russian officials, including the Russian State Library, approved the transfer of the seven books from the Library of Congress to the library in Brooklyn”. Reached on Monday, the spokeswoman said: “because the transfer to the Schneerson Library terminated the loan to the Library of Congress, we have no direct knowledge of the location of the seven books.” She had no comment on Russia’s plans to sue.

As this story was published, Chabad’s lawyers did not respond to inquiries.

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  1. crisnorm said,

    02.28.13 at 2:30 pm

    RT @elginism: Blog post: The Court of the District of Columbia & the Chabad jews – a possible solution for the Parthenon Marbles htt …

  2. Tuddy1991 said,

    02.28.13 at 2:45 pm

    RT @elginism: Blog post: The Court of the District of Columbia & the Chabad jews – a possible solution for the Parthenon Marbles htt …

  3. grhluna25 said,

    02.28.13 at 3:46 pm

    RT @elginism: Blog post: The Court of the District of Columbia & the Chabad jews – a possible solution for the Parthenon Marbles htt …

  4. elginism said,

    03.01.13 at 8:48 am

    @PortantIssues Thanks for your piece on the Chabad Jews v Russia. Wouldn’t have spotted it otherwise. Here’s my take http://t.co/Gt0Dpm27NM

  5. elginism said,

    03.04.13 at 9:17 am

    @ann_les HAs there been much coverage of this story in the Russian press? http://t.co/Gt0Dpm27NM

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