Friday, February 04, 2011
MOSCOW/WASHINGTON D.C. The Chabad organization (based in Brooklyn, New York) has for decades sought the restitution of the Schneerson Library, "a collection of 12,000 books and 50,000 religious documents assembled by the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement over two centuries prior to World War II, and kept since in Russia." The New York Times reports that just before the collapse of the Soviet Union, a court in Moscow ordered the return of the artifacts to the organization but the judgment was subsequently set-aside by Russian authorities. The District Court for the District of Columbia then ordered Russia to repatriate the collection in July 2010 but Russia took no part in the proceedings and contested the court's jurisdiction to adjudicate a claim based on "Russian" assets, located in Russia (I suspect the court's jurisdiction was grounded in the "expropriation exception" under the FSIA - cf the Pisarro claim on the jurisdictional question). Russia retaliated by putting pressure on state-run museums in the country (including the Hermitage and the Pushkin) to cancel scheduled loans to US museums alleging that the loaned works could be seized in the US to compel compliance with the Schneerson judgment. American diplomats insisted that was not the case and I believe that's a correct statement of the law - the loaned works would be immune from seizure under the FSIA and since title over these works is not contested, I don't think they could be attached. Nevertheless, the scheduled loans have been canceled as a result of the fallout which will now be noticeably felt in the US this year as several blockbuster shows miss out on promised loaned works.