Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 99

President Yeltsin’s spokesman, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, has indicated that the president has little choice but to sign into law a controversial bill on restitution of cultural treasures brought to the USSR by the Soviet Army at the end of World War II. The effect of the law is to make it virtually impossible for the previous, foreign owners of the artworks to claim their return. Last week, the situation was complicated by the news that part of the famous 18th century Amber Room, seized in 1941 by the Nazis from a palace near St. Petersburg, has been discovered in Germany and that the German government is willing to consider returning it to Russia. The news has belatedly woken some members of the Russian parliament up to the fact that the law may, in addition to asserting Russia’s right to permanent ownership of plundered treasures, prevent Russia from claiming back parts of its own cultural heritage. Federation Council speaker Yegor Stroyev said that parliament adopted the law "in the heat of emotion" when the 51st anniversary of the end of the war in Europe was being observed. With passage of time, Stroyev said, the "correct" decision would be adopted. (Itar-Tass, May 15; Russian Radio, May 18; Interfax, May 19)

Meanwhile, Yeltsin is seeking ways of circumventing the law. The President is likely to appeal against the law to the Constitutional Court. Another possibility, Yastrzhembsky said, would be to set up a special Russian-German council, headed by the German chancellor and Russian president, to which the right to own and manage disputed artworks would be delegated.

IMF Smiles on Armenia, Ukraine; Frowns on Belarus, Uzbekistan.