Inetrnational Centre of the Roerichs

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“Russky Curier” newspaper, March 2, 2004.

Anatoly Karpov declares checkmate to the officers of the Ministry of Culture and applies to President Putin again

It was not at all a sports subject that gave rise to the conversation with the prominent chess player. In December 2003, Anatoly Karpov, together with a number of workers of the Russian culture and politics, signed the Appeal to President of the Russian Federation V. Putin. The authors of the collective letter drew the President’s attention to the situation which had formed around the Roerich family’s legacy in Russia.

The Ministry of Culture of the RF has perverted the will of S. N. Roerich – the last of the Roerichs, and illegally nationalized the collection of paintings that Svetoslav Roerich bequeathed to the International Center of the Roerichs. He himself participated in this center establishment and he was its Honorary President. The RF President did not answer the appeal…

The one who answered was… RF Minister of Culture M. E. Shvydkoi. Was it by the Russian President’s “ personal instruction”, or his independent inspiration for epistolary activities, only the God knows, but there was nothing intelligible said by the Minister to the workers of culture on the merit of the issues raised. In the middle of February, A. E. Karpov received another answer to the collective appeal – now it came from General Director of the State Museum of Oriental Art V. A. Nabatchikov. The latter “believed” (that is how he put it) that A. E. Karpov “did not have adequate knowledge” on the problem essence. The State Museum Director decided to provide such knowledge and put wise the deer addresser.

And it was this letter that made the reason for the “RC” correspondents to meet Anatoly Karpov.

— Unlike Vladimir Nabatchikov, I have no doubt as to his having knowledge. As to me, I would never put my signature on a document being not aware of the core of the subject. For my way is a responsible attitude to everything.

Now about my “lack of knowledge”. I personally knew Svetoslav Roerich, met him, and the whole drama of the last years of his life, especially around the legacy, passed before my eyes. I do dare to assert: the Ministry of Culture and the State Oriental Museum illegally keep part of the Roerich family’s legacy, namely, the collection of paintings. What can be clearer and more logical: there is the owner’s, donator’s, bequeather’s, at last, personal will expressed in writing – to pass over the Roerich family’s legacy to the public organization – the Soviet Foundation of the Roerichs. This is how the present International Center of the Roerichs was called before the USSR’s collapse.

Act in accordance with this clearly expressed will! Anything else comes from the evil one! Especially while there are still living witnesses including me, thank God! If Russia declares the dictatorship of law out of the mouth of the President, then, speaking the chess language, it means a checkmate to you, Misters Bureaucrats from culture!

No, the bureaucrats are looking for all kinds of pretexts to present the Roerich Center leaders including me as almost some kind of crooks.

— You called your appeal to the President of Russia published by the “Komsomolskaya Pravda” newspaper “The Roerichs’ Heritage is Threatened with Destruction”. There was no exaggeration?

— We just called spade a spade. The Soviet Foundation of Peace which I headed at that time was one of the originators of the Roerichs Soviet Foundation formation. Our Foundation provided both financial and moral support for the establishment of the N. K. Roerich Public Center-Museum including commencement of restoration works in the Lopukhins’ estate. This building was allotted to the Foundation by the Moscow Council executive committee.

I will go back once again to the beginning of this legal story. While still alive, Svetoslav Roerich transferred owned by him part of the family legacy to the Soviet Foundation of the Roerichs by virtue of his last will. But after the Soviet Union split and the Foundation was renamed into the International Center of the Roerichs, Svetoslav Roerich confirmed the ICR rights to the legacy handed over to the SFR. The 288 paintings which were at that time in temporary, I emphasize it, custody of the Ministry of Culture in the State Oriental Museum, were also enumerated in his last will.

In 1992, in the letter to President Boris Yeltsyn (it was again me who helped to deliver the letter), Svetoslav Roerich asked to return the collection to the N. K. Roerich International Center-Museum.

— And what?

— It is already 12 years that they have been returning it.

— So why is the will of a great man not fulfilled?

— You should know our domestic bureaucracy with its habit to scoop everything. In this sense, the Roerichs’ heritage is really threatened with destruction. For non-fulfillment of the will is in fact destruction of the man’s will.

— The Khamovniki District Court of the city of Moscow recognized that the International Center of the Roerichs legally exercised its right to inherit.

— Surprisingly, in his letter to me, Mr. Nabatchikov calls this judgment inspired.

— By whom?

— We should think, by the management of the International Center of the Roerichs. Where there are no arguments at law, suspicion and empty accusations start. I know General Director of the N. K. Roerich Museum Ludmila Shaposhnikova. Svetoslav Roerich appointed her his testamentary executor. It is impossible to imagine that she could inspire something in court. Such accusations are born when there are no convincing arguments to support your own position. Besides, unlike the Ministry of Culture, the ICR leaders have no administrative resources to inspire judgments. The ICR has only one, but the main resource that the Ministry of Culture lacks – the will of S. N. Roerich’s who ordered to leave the legacy to the ICR.

I was especially struck with a fragment in Mr. Nabatchikov’s letter where he is sincerely puzzled: how does a public organization dare to “compete” (what a word!) with state institutions in matters of property and non-property rights. The meaning of Mr. Nabatchikov’s passage: what kind of “Moska” toy of a dog is hanging about here, disturbing an important state “elephant”… How forgetful Mr. Nabatchikov is! The civilized mankind has elaborated the institute of public ownership and control over the property of outstanding citizens of the world for this very reason, to avoid… Though, the reader can guess himself what is implied.

— Nevertheless, the Ministry of Culture managed to have the Khamovniki District Court judgment which recognized the ICR as S. N. Roerich’s heir vacated by the Moscow City Court Presidium. At that, the court considered the application of the Ministry of Culture as the application of the collection owner. How could this happen?

— For the years of reforms, our officers have learnt very well to both privatize the state property and nationalize the private property. And no ethic norms would prevent them from doing so. Let us see what has taken place in this case?

On the 30th of January 1993, Svetoslav Roerich passed away.

The funeral ceremonies had hardly finished as Oriental Museum Director Mr. Nabatchikov, without waiting for expiration of the established by the law 6 months from the date of the property owner’s death, issued an order transferring the paintings from the temporary custody to permanent. And all this having no single document confirming the museum’s right to the collection! It is hard to imagine such legal ignorance on the part of a state official.

And after 6 years, in 1999, Minister of Culture V. Yegorov, by the way, my good and dear mate, confirmed by his order the museum Director’s illegal order lawfulness. I am sure, if Vladimir Yegorov retained his position of the Minister, I would have been able to find convincing arguments to persuade him that his order on the Roerichs “case” was a mistake.

— What did those orders mean?

— In fact, the legacy nationalization. And the Moscow City Court Presidium held the state as the paintings owner. This was the alleged reason for the Khamovniki District Court judgment reversal and sending the case to a new examination. Unbelievable. But Svetoslav Roerich, while still alive, set a condition: the collection of paintings cannot be held by bureaucrats from the state. He transferred it exclusively to the public museum named after his father – Nicholas Roerich, which museum he himself established. Not to any Ministry of Culture, not to any Museum of Oriental Art. Maybe, the following comparison will not look quite correct, but it obviously comes to mind. At the beginning of the 40s of the last century, the Germans exported artistic values from occupied territories. A cultural nation behaved like Medieval barbarians. After the USSR collapse, many former state officials felt the same kind of triumphant barbarians.

— But did the Ministry of Culture not have any rights for the legacy as a temporary custodian? It was the Museum of Oriental Arts that has stored the canvases all these years, organized the Roerichs’ paintings exhibitions all over the country, incurred certain expenses.

— If a friend applies to you with a request to keep something very precious to him and does not prohibit its demonstration to your guests, it will not make you entitled to consider yourself its owner. You know that he has delivered it to you for temporary custody, that you will return it to him when he is back. Such things are settled at the level of personal arrangements, at the level of human decency.

And in this case with the Roerichs’ collection, there were not only oral, but documented agreements, there was a clearly expressed will executed by way of testament.

There is another legal aspect of the problem. The Ministry of Culture is now trying to justify its actions alleging that the ICR is not a legal successor of the SFR to which S. N. Roerich transferred the legacy. But the Ministry of Culture and those authorities that played this “myth of the lack of legal succession” consciously forget about the fact that the SFR was renamed into the ICR not only during S. N. Roerich’s life, but by his decision. Moreover, when he came to know that the Ministry of Culture, with the help of the Ministry of Justice, had started this campaign aimed at establishing the “lack of legal succession”, Svetoslav Roerich wrote a letter to President B. N. Yeltsin with a request to help to return the paintings from the Oriental Museum to the ICR and confirmed with the Notary the ICR’s rights to the legacy transferred to the SFR. So, the Ministry of Culture representatives are dissembling, to put it mildly.

— The Oriental Museum Director refers to the results of the audit of the Accounts Chamber : it has not revealed any violations in placing the paintings on the state record, the paintings were included in the book of gifts. That means, everything is in compliance with the law, in accordance with the established procedure.

— Which law? What procedure, and established by whom? And what is that book of gifts? Where does it come from? How the paintings could have got into it where Roerich did not give them to the Museum of Oriental Art? Whatever question you ask, there is no answer. The Accounts Chamber for some reason did not go into those questions that were raised by the ICR. And we asked to check the paintings preservation, and, the most important thing, their correspondence to S. N. Roerich’s last will.

— Recently, the ICR leaders have held a press-conference for journalists where they laid in detail the whole history of their many-year struggle for the legacy. In answer, the Ministry of Culture heads stated: we shall only return the paintings after a court judgment which will recognize the ICR rights for Roerich’s paintings. And the courts are against you. The result is a vicious circle.

— I believe, the legal resources have not yet been exhausted. We shall use our best efforts so that the law win.

In this situation, what disturbs me as the head of the Board of Trustees is the strange tendency which has clearly revealed itself in the actions of the Ministry of Culture. Now the state, out of the mouth of Minister of Culture M. E. Shvydkoi, does not just refuse to return the paintings. It claims for the N. K. Roerich Center-Museum building as well! That is, the attack develops along all lines. On the TV screen, the Minister of Culture advocates liberal values. And in fact, he behaves like a typical representative of bureaucracy interests.

A year ago, at the jubilee of Saint-Petersburg, we “ran across each other” with Mikhail Shvydkoi. I invited him to a “business breakfast” to discuss a number of questions with which I am concerned as a citizen, and at last, as the world champion in chess. Mikhail Shvydkoi used to play chess quite seriously some time ago. He took over the initiative and invited me to breakfast on his own behalf.

— And what was on the menu of “breakfast Ministry style”?

— I don’t know until today!

What is happening with the Roerichs’ legacy is especially sad if you compare it with the attitude towards our distinguished compatriots in India. They already now have celebrations dedicated to Svetoslav Roerich’s 100th anniversary. New exhibitions are being opened, the family estate is being restored. And the Russian Ministry of Culture attempts to finally abuse the donator’s will. That is why it was written in the Appeal to the President of Russia: “The Roerichs’ Heritage is Threatened with Destruction”. It is not an exaggeration.

Once again, now on my own behalf, I apply to the President of Russia. Why do the officers accountable to you trample on the law? Do not evade the answer. The Roerichs’ heritage is in danger! The situation requires your interference.

— You still hope to get an answer from the President?

— Das ist noch kein Endspiel. (It is not yet the end game.)

The talk was conducted by Konstantin Velichko, Lev Pyatigorsky.