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Russia and US may restart cultural exchange halted over Schneerson Library dispute

April 17, 18:51 UTC+3 MOSCOW
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MOSCOW, April 17. /TASS/. Russia and the US may soon restart exchanges of exhibitions suspended over the so-called Schneerson Library case, if the US president ratifies the document giving state guarantees that the exhibits will be protected against third party claims, the director of the Moscow Kremlin Museums,Yelena Gagarina, told TASS on Monday.

"The document on state guarantees against claims by third parties was signed by the Senate, but it must now be ratified by President (Donald) Trump," Gagarina explained. (Ex-President Barack Obama failed to ratify it, and now all eyes are on the new president - TASS.)

"The document has already gone through the first stage, and if the president signs it, the exchanges will restart," the director elaborated.

Suspended exchange

The Schneerson Library, a collection of rare religious Hassidic books and documents, was started by spiritual leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hassidic movement, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson in the Russian city of Lyubaichi (now a city of Belarus). At the moment, it numbers 12,000 books and 50,000 rare documents.

A dispute around the Hassidic books in 2010 brought the exchanges of museum exhibits between Russia and the United States to a halt. In late July 2011, a US court ruled to begin the process of returning rare books from Russia claimed by the US-based Hassidic group.

Russia, however, dismissed the ruling and demanded the return of seven books from Schneerson’s collection that the Library of Congress had obtained in 1994 through inter-library exchange system.

In 2013, the US court imposed a $50,000 daily fine on Russia for not complying with its earlier decisions to hand over the so-called Schneerson Library to US-based Chabad-Lubavitch movement.

From the onset of the dispute, Russian museums had to terminate participation in exhibitions in the US as cultural items were not protected against third party claims. The US museums followed suit. Thus, the Hermitage Museum of St. Petersburg and the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts refused to participate in an exhibition at Washington’s National Gallery for fears that the paintings would be confiscated. Museums of the Moscow Kremlin had to reformat the exhibition devoted to French fashion designer Paul Poiret, as most exhibits belonged to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

"Of course, we would not want to see the row over the Schneerson Library interfering with the whole process of exhibition exchanges," Gagarina explained.

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