Talks to resume Russia-US cultural exchange may start by spring, says official

MOSCOW: Talks on resuming cultural exchanges between museums of Russia and United States, halted in 2010 over the so-called Schneerson Library case, may resume this spring, the Russian president’s special envoy on international cultural cooperation has said.

“I hope that once an assistant US Secretary of State is appointed to be in charge of this area of public diplomacy and culture, we will try to restart [museum exchanges],” Mikhail Shvydkoi told the Vesti FM radio station on Saturday night.

The Russian official said that cultural exchanges between Russia and US at the state level are currently “in a very bad condition, they are, in fact, non-existent.”

The official said the American Alliance of Museums has sent letters to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with a request to restart talks on the issue.

“I expect that we will try to launch talks on the issue in March or April,” Shvydkoi added.

The Schneerson Library, a collection of rare religious Hassidic books and documents, was started by the 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, including 381 manuscripts.

In late July 2011, a US court ruled to begin the process of returning rare books from Russia, on a claim from 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 the inter-library exchange system.

In 2013, the US court imposed a $50,000 daily fine on Russia for not complying with its decisions.

The dispute around the Hassidic books brought the exchanges of museum exhibits between Russia and the United States to a halt. Russian museums had to terminate participation in exhibitions in the US in 2010 as cultural items were not protected against third party claims. The US museums followed suit.

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