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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Backers Seek to Override Art Law Veto

Backers of a controversial "trophy art" law, which would keep in Russia nearly all of the estimated 200,000 art works taken from Germany by the Red Army during World War II, vowed Thursday to keep fighting until the law is on the books.


The Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian parliament, rejected the law Wednesday after it had already received the backing of the State Duma or lower house.


But Mikhail Mashkovtsev, deputy chairman of the Federation Council cultural committee, said the law remained as vital as ever. He predicted the Duma would attempt to override the council's veto, which would require a two-thirds majority in the lower house, or 300 votes.


The Duma passed the bill in its final reading July 5 by a vote of 300 to zero, with two abstentions.


"If this does not happen, we will prepare a second version, a third version -- whatever it takes to get this law enacted. Russia's national property must be preserved," Mashkovtsev said.


But Tamara Gudima, a co-sponsor of the bill in the Duma, admitted the storm of protest in the press and from the German government that followed the bill's passage could have cowed its supporters.


Gudima said she "feared that pressure could be also be exerted on Duma deputies" should they try to override the Council veto. The Duma's culture committee will try to raise the override vote during a special session scheduled for Aug. 9, when the Duma will convene to consider the president's nomination for prime minister.


German Culture Minister Klaus Kinkel issued a statement Wednesday praising the Federation Council's decision to block the law and expressing hope that Duma members will also understand that Russia cannot sidestep its commitments under international law.


The bill ruled that Russia would retain possession of almost all German art taken to the Soviet Union under its "right to compensatory restitution." The only two exceptions apply to art works that belonged to religious organizations, or to individuals who "actively" fought against Nazism.


The value of art works removed to the Soviet Union has been estimated at $65 billion. The bill's champions consider this just a drop in the bucket compared with what the countries of the former Soviet Union deserve for their own losses during the war.


"These cultural treasures are very scanty compensation for the pillaging of our great Russian culture carried out during the war," Mashkovtsev said.