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Ancient jewels, coins and caskets that are hundreds of years old sit at the University of Amsterdam’s archaeological Allard Pierson Museum. They had been discovered in Crimea and show the richness of the peninsula in the Black Sea.
The exhibition opened in February, when Crimea belonged to Ukraine. In the meantime, however, Russia has sent troops to the peninsula, a referendum was held, and Crimea has seceded from Ukraine and joined Russia.
As both Moscow and Kiev claim the ownership of the items, the Amsterdam museum finds itself caught in a diplomatic dispute. The “cold conflict” over Crimean gold is in of itself a proxy fight amid the ongoing crisis between Russia and the West.
In a few days the exhibition ends, but the Dutch curators have said they are unsure where to return the gold.
Museums on both sides have hired lawyers to solve the problem, and the Dutch ministry of foreign affairs is involved. Meanwhile, Russia, too, has declared its support for Crimea and hired an international law firm. “I am very hopeful that our counterparts in the Netherlands will approach the matter from the viewpoint not of petty politics but that of the law,” said Russian culture minister Vladimir Medinsky, according to media reports in July. He accused Kiev of shifting the issue into the political domain.
The ancient gold, coins and caskets from the Black Sea have become just the most recent delicate matter in what has become a “cold conflict” between Russia, Ukraine and the West. Especially for the Netherlands the dispute over the cultural heritage complicates relations with Russia.