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Paintings conflict // Radio «Svoboda»

Radio «Svoboda». 9.03.2017
By Lyubov Chizhova

The leadership of the International Centre of the Roerichs where the search has been recently made blamed the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation for “systematic destruction” of the museum, and investigation authorities for its “armed seizure”. On Thursday during the press-conference the representatives of the Centre declared that Minister of Culture of the Russian Federation Vladimir Medinsky and his deputy Vladimir Aristarkhov since November 2013 have been maintaining policy aimed at seizure of the museum. During this time different departments conducted dozens of unscheduled inspections.

Aristarkhov told mass media that he remembers all these inspections, all of them are allegedly related to law violations and rules of building maintenance where the center is situated.

Search of the International Centre of the Roerichs in Moscow took place on Tuesday. Law enforcement officials have withdrawn more than 200 paintings. The Ministry of Internal Affairs declared that investigation is concerned with a cause of fraud filed in the relation of the former head of bank where the money of organization was held. The Vice-President of the International Centre of the Roerichs Alexander Stetsenko pointed out that it was just a pretext for the “armed seizure of the museum”.  Defense of the International Centre of the Roerichs would appeal against investigative measures to the Prosecutor’s Office, Chief Investigation Department and Investigation Committee of Russia.

On Thursday it was announced that 57 packages with paintings of Svetoslav and Nicholas Roerich removed from the International Centre of the Roerichs on March 7 were accepted for storage by the Museum of Oriental Art. This information was affirmed by the Director General Alexander Sedov.

“Roerichs’ paintings are placed in the Museum of Oriental Art as physical evidence. I can not specify exactly the quantity of art pieces – there are 57 packages, we cannot unpack them because they are under a seal of Investigation Committee of Russia. All further actions depend on investigation authorities, we serve as a warehouse”, – Sedov said.

This refers to withdrawal of those paintings given to the International Centre of the Roerichs by Boris Bulochnik, former owner of Master-Bank who had been accused of fraud and now is wanted. Boris Bulochnik is fond of Nicholas Roerich study, earlier he was the member of Board of the International Centre of the Roerichs, financed the reconstruction works of Lopoukhins’ Estate in the Center of Moscow and opening of Center-Museum named after Nicholas Roerich.

Deputy Director General of the Museum named after Nicholas Roerich Pavel Zhuravikhin told Svoboda Radio what is behind the seizure of paintings and possible eviction of museum from the Lopoukhins’ Estate:

– Current news: the paintings withdrawn from the Centre of the Roerichs two days ago were found at the Museum of Oriental Art. How did it happen?

– The situation also raises many questions for us, because generally speaking if the paintings are under investigation they shall be received by the corresponding law enforcement agencies. But they were immediately taken to the Museum of Oriental Art. What does it mean? It means that Museum of Oriental Art and Ministry of Culture directly relate to this robbery with participation of law enforcement agencies.

– How are the searches and seizure of paintings from the Centre of the Roerichs are connected?

Our employees were refused to drink, eat and go to the toilet without convoy

– I wish to say the searches have been held for almost a day and our employees were refused to drink, eat and go to the toilet without convoy, all this reminded of 1937 year. During that time the team was headed by the advisor to the Russian Minister of Culture Kirill Rybak and deputy Director of the Museum of Oriental Art Tigran Mkrtychev. Why does it all happen? In fact, when Medinsky took office as the Minister of Culture the policy of Ministry of Culture relating to our organization crucially changed through 180 degrees. We had wonderful relationships with the Minister of Culture Avdeev, his precursor Sokolov, and they understood a significance of the Roerichs’ heritage, highly appreciated the work of our Museum and International Centre of the Roerichs including the popularization of the Roerich Pact ideas, preservation of cultural heritage. But when Mr.Medinsky and his first deputy Mr. Aristarkhov came to power, everything changed. He does not have any special education, more than 8 years he worked in construction business and now he is responsible for the preservation of cultural heritage, and this is his level of comprehension of this cultural heritage. And Mr.Rybak who provides legal basis and legal justification of the eviction of International Centre of the Roerichs, destruction of this Museum, earlier worked in the State Museum of Oriental Art.

– Do you mean the eviction of the museum?

– Yes, I do. After Mr.Medinsky became Minister, the Ministry of Culture has promptly raised question on the fact that International Centre of the Roerichs does not have any rights in Svetoslav Roerich’s heritage, it is necessary to create the state museum and everything was done to victimize our organization in press and so on from the one part as he said in one of his first interviews – some foundation intends to withdraw a collection of national level from the state, State Museum of Oriental Art. Since that time actions aimed at our eviction have begun under ideological shelter.

– Where is your Museum located?

– Our Museum is located in a few kilometers from the Kremlin; it is the ancient Lopoukhins’ Estate of XVII-XIX centuries. It is not a coincidence that the Estate was given for establishment of this museum.

– How long does the museum exist here in this Estate?

– Over 25 years we have been situating in this Estate. Without any money from the State the Estate was reconstructed due to the donations and funds of a patron. Hundreds of volunteers constantly worked to restore this building providing assistance for the professional restorers. As a result we restored this estate; all works got “excellent marks” from the state officials.

– In which balance is this building?

– The word “balance” does not suit here. In fact, at first the estate was granted on the long-term lease (49 years) until 2055, in my view, but in 2014 the Mayor of Moscow Sergey Sobyanin transferred the estate for gratuitous use to the International Centre of the Roeirchs.

– What are you afraid of?

– In 2015 Mr.Medinsky, our Minister of Culture, wrote a letter to Sergey S.Sobyanin: we ask you to transfer the estate building to federal ownership to allow us to fulfill the will of Svetoslav Roerich – recreate the whole estate. Within one month the building was transferred to the Federal Agency for State Property Management (Rosimushchestvo) according to his letter. This is generally impossible, that it happens according to the letter of Medinsky! Only two weeks ago Rosimushchestvo transferred these buildings to operational managements and not to us, who recreated this estate, who created the museum, but to the Museum of Oriental Art, which immediately began to take steps on elimination of museum. Certainly it happened under cover of Ministry of Culture.

– In general, you have a conflict with the Museum of Oriental Art, don’t you?

It is a robbery at national level

– As you know, we have it both with Ministry of Culture and Museum of Oriental Art. It is not a property conflict, the roots are much deeper. The Museum of Oriental Art has a collection belonging to Svetoslav Roerich. When he was creating the museum in early stages he pointed out that his collection of 288 paintings previously given for travelling exhibitions to the Soviet union would also be transferred to the non-governmental Museum created by him and the non-governmental organization established by him, the International Centre of the Roerichs. They did not return! He wrote a letter to Boris N.Yeltsin, Russian President, and said that “The Museum of Oriental Art illegally keeps my 288 paintings, I ask you for help”. Nothing was done! Ministry of Culture procrastinated under any pretexts. It was not clear why. Svetoslav died in 1993 and only afterwards when we received the copies of documents we conducted all researches and saw that part of paintings was simply stolen and disappeared at the Museum of Oriental Art. It is a robbery at the national level!

All these years we raised this question. Along the way they decided to grab not only the beautiful building near the Kremlin but also a fantastic collection, we have the world-class collection, biggest in the world. We are the single organization where the Roerichs’ heritage is fully exhibited and it has not been stolen! And I would like to recall that after involvement of Ministry of Culture the first part of the collection of the Roerichs was totally stolen, the Roerichs’ heritage, of their elder son George Roerich who took it here in 1957, tried to negotiate with the Ministry of Culture on creation of the Museum, he was promised and promised, but nothing was done. Collection was divided into 3 parts, first part was taken to the vault of Tretyakov gallery, second to the vault of Russian Museum and third part remained in the flat. With the involvement of Ministry of Culture everything was stolen! No matter how much we together with public applied to law enforcement authorities, Ministry of Culture – nothing was done!

– Mass media write that according to the data of investigation the seized paintings were allegedly donated to your center by former owner of Master-Bank Boris Bulochnik who has been blamed for fraud and now is wanted. Who is the legal owner of the seized paintings?

– It is a very good question, because our museum is not essentially relevant to Master-Bank, except for one moment – we held accounts in the Master-Bank. That is all! Master-Bank never granted, bought paintings for us. Particular person did that for us – Boris I.Bulochnik, members of his family and other patrons. Because we virtually doubled the collection in addition to what initially came from Svetoslav Roerich. These paintings were donated to the museum under the deed of gift. Bulochnik did not have any rights. Museum is the owner. And now the owner is deprived of paintings in the case of Bulochnik!

– What is the price of seized paintings and what is their further destiny?

Price of paintings is huge – between 1 and 12 million dollars

– Price of paintings is huge! One Roerich large-sized canvas is between 1 and 12 million dollars at auctions. It is official data. Dozens of such paintings were seized. Today I have read that 54 boxes with allegedly Roerich paintings arrived at the Museum of Oriental Art. I have already explained why they arrived at the Museum of Oriental Art, but I am scared to say about their further destiny! I asked the investigator: “Well, you blame Boris Bulochinik for all mortal sins. But you take away the paintings, what next? Will you really sell them to return money to the depositors?” I received an answer: “Yes, we will sell them at the auction”. It is incomprehensible!