The Dutch are still moaning about the paintings they lost: Oekraïne doet niets om roofkunst Hoorn terug te krijgen' and Report: Ukraine “doing nothing” to recover stolen Dutch art.
You can imagine the conversation, can't you?
"yes?"The Dutch provincial museum and Dutch people apparently think the Ukrainians should be falling over themselves to help them get their stolen paintings and silver back. It is a "scandal" as far as they are concerned that the paintings are not back already, and they are determined to stir up as much bad feeling as possible until they are.
"Good afternoon Mr Brond - Officer Oleg Klimchiuk here from the Ukrainian CID. Mr Brond, a guard at the Dutch Embassy here in Kiev says you stole his Rolex watch last year and have it. You must give it back to him"
"Watch? How ridiculous, I do not know what you are talking about, I have not stolen anybody's watch"
"We've talked to some other anonymous sources and your name kept coming up, you must have the watch Mr Brond, you must surrender it to us"
"I have no watch I tell you, these are ridiculous lies"
"We have evidence"
"There is no evidence, I do not have the watch"
"Can I come in and search your home and outbuildings, car and office?"
"No, buzz off"
"But, just let us in"
"Get a search warrant"
"You know no judge will admit hearsay as a reason to issue a search warrant"
"Well then, buzz off and don't come back, you idiot!"
"If you don't give it back, we'll tell everyone what a dishonest man you are Mr Brond"
"Go ahead, sticks and stones. I've not got anybody's watch. Idiot".
They seem oblivious to the way the 1970 UNESCO 'Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property' works and what it is for. UNESCO and its activities exist as part of the mission to "build peace in the minds of men". One group of people wandering off and stealing the heritage of another group is an act of aggression, and the 1970 Convention is there to resolve conflicts in this area. That is its main function (see its preamble). The problem is the Dutch have shown themselves to not really be all that interested in Ukraine, indeed they have shown themselves in the recent referendum to be utterly hostile towards the country (largely, one suspects prejudice because of MH 17 which someone unwisely flew over an active combat zone). Whether or not they deprive their own citizens of some art in a court of law and give it to the Dutch more likely than not will make no difference at all to Dutch attitudes. But actually who cares what the Dutch think?
What the Dutch need to take note of is Article 7: of the Convention
The States Parties to this Convention undertake [...] (b) (i) to prohibit the import of cultural property stolen from a museum or a religious or secular public monument or similar institution in another State Party to this Convention after the entry into force of this Convention for the States concerned, provided that such property is documented as appertaining to the inventory of that institution;Ukraine ratified the Convention 28/04/1988 while The Netherlands accepted it (only) 17/07/2009. The recent research which is suggesting that the paintings were stolen to order by a Ukrainian oligarch would mean the paintings and perhaps silver were in the country before July 2009. technically, Ukraine is not under any obligation because of the Convention to prosecute the Dutch case. Especially as so much of it rests on hearsay 'evidence'. Furthermore, the Convention's Article 7 also stipulates:
(ii) at the request of the State Party of origin, to take appropriate steps to recover and return any such cultural property imported after the entry into force of this Convention in both States concerned, provided, however, that the requesting State shall pay just compensation to an innocent purchaser or to a person who has valid title to that property. Requests for recovery and return shall be made through diplomatic offices. The requesting Party shall furnish, at its expense, the documentation and other evidence necessary to establish its claim for recovery and return.The Dutch side however did not follow the prescribed procedure. Instead of notifying Ukrainian diplomats in Holland they sent somebody (who speaks no Ukrainian) to "negotiate" and offer a much lower sum (10%) in "compensation". They only involved the Ukrainian authorities when the trail being followed by their private investigator went cold, by which time it was arguably too late for the Ukrainians to do anything. No information is available about the disposition of any documentation and other evidence necessary to establish its claim for recovery and return. We do know that the Museum concerned did not possess the required photos of the painting Rebecca en Eliezer by Jan Linsen which was seen for sale on the internet in January 2014 (nota bene before the eruption of 'Euromajdan' on 18 February 2014 and the proclamation of the Luhansk People's Republic on 27 April 2014).
Instead of complaining about the unwillingness of the Ukrainians to get involved in a wild goose chase and then some expensive confiscation cases on the basis of the hearsay evidence, the Dutch should be admitting their own mistakes, colonial attitudes, procedural errors and incompetence. But then, it is always easier to blame somebody else, isn't it?