Daily Israel Report

Putin Won't Return Disputed Chabad Archive to U.S.

Russian President refuses to return a disputed Jewish archive to the U.S., saying doing so would "open a Pandora's box".
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 2/20/2013, 6:44 AM

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin
Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday he refused to return a historic but disputed Jewish archive to the United States because doing so would "open a Pandora's box", AFP reports.

Putin spoke after a U.S. judge slapped a daily fine of $50,000 on Moscow last month for its failure to comply with a 2010 order to return the sacred texts.

Putin's international cultural cooperation representative Mikhail Shvydko said at the time that the ruling "doomed" the chances of the archive ever being sent to the United States.

Speaking at a Moscow meeting on inter-ethnic issues, Putin called the ruling "unjust" and proposed instead to display the collection in Moscow, according to AFP.

"If we open a Pandora's box today and begin to grant such claims, then there won't be an end to such requests and it is unclear what they will lead to," he said in televised remarks.

"Maybe one day we will be able to do so but in my opinion, right now we are simply absolutely not ready for it. It is not possible," added Putin.

He suggested the texts be displayed at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center, which opened in November and is one of the world's largest Jewish museums.

The archive, referred to in Russia as the Schneersohn Library in honor of its original owner Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneersohn, was split up and partially nationalized by the Soviet Union in 1918.

The other part was taken out of Russia and ended up in Germany where it was seized by Soviet troops at the end of World War II in 1945.

Most of the 12,000 texts and 50,000 documents it contains have since been transferred to the Russian military archive and state library.

Officials there said last month that they had no intention of parting with a collection gathered in the 18th century and regarded with veneration by Hasidic Jews who populated eastern Europe and have since largely settled in New York.

The dispute has frozen cultural exchange programs between the two old Cold War rivals and as a result, touring exhibitions of such great museums as the Hermitage and the Tretyakov have bypassed the United States.

The U.S. State Department has argued that decisions of the kind issued by the District Court complicated both the case and bilateral ties.

A spokesman for the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia said last month that, from a moral point of view, the library should be returned to its former Jewish owners but using the courts was the wrong course of action.

“The Chabad-Lubavitch community in New York is the legal heir to the library,” the spokesman, Borukh Gorin, said, “but the tactic it has chosen does not stand a chance. These rulings can only help raise attention to our cause.”