News 04 Jan 17

Croatia Urges Serbia to Return Religious Artefacts

The Croatian culture ministry demanded the return of over 1,000 artefacts taken to Serbia from Orthodox churches and monasteries during the 1990s wars and thousands of items that went missing from its museums.

BIRN Team
BIRN
Belgrade
Serbian culture minister Vladan Vukosavljevic. Photo: Beta.

The Croatian culture ministry told Serbian newspaper Blic on Wednesday that Zagreb is demanding that Belgrade return “1,065 cultural items from Orthodox churches and monasteries” that were brought to Serbia during the 1990s war.

“According to assessments, 24,500 museum artefacts from 45 Croatian museums are still missing [and there is no information] about where they are, whether these objects have been destroyed or disposed of… nor were there negotiations about their return,” the ministry told Blic.

Serbia and Croatia signed an agreement on the return of cultural goods in April 2002, after which the two countries formed a joint commission to deal with the issue.

According to the Croatian culture ministry, between 2002 and 2013, Serbia returned 25,260 artworks to Croatia.

The 24,500 artefacts that Croatia is still demanding were not part of the negotiations between Belgrade and Zagreb because there are no records about their whereabouts, and the process of returning items taken from churches and monasteries has hit a deadlock.

Serbian culture minister Vladan Vukosavljevic told Blic that Belgrade has not agreed to Zagreb’s demand that the items - which include icons, books and other religious objects - should be placed in “temporary depositories” in Croatia.

Vukosavljevic said that Belgrade insists that the items can only be returned after it is agreed that they go back to the locations from which they were taken, and after damage to the Orthodox churches in Croatia is repaired.

“Temporary depositories are out of question; part of the Serbian Orthodox Church’s property can be returned when the churches from which it was taken are refurbished,” Vukosavljevic said.

“We are for dialogue, but not at the expense of the Serbian Orthodox Church and our cultural treasures,” he added.

Serbian newspaper Politika reported on December 15 that the Serbian culture ministry insists that the artefacts are either returned to the churches and monasteries where they were originally or handed over to the Serbian Orthodox Church in Croatia.

The return of the artefacts taken from Orthodox churches in war-ravaged areas of Croatia was highlighted in mid-December when the Zagreb government blocked the opening of Chapter 26 in Serbia’s EU talks - the section on education and culture - saying that issues related to the Croat minority in Serbia must form part of the negotiations, starting with education in the Croatian language.

A Croatian member of the European Parliament, Ruza Tomasic, also told Belgrade-based news agency Tanjug that the return of “cultural goods” should also be one of Zagreb’s conditions for allowing the Chapter 26 talks to start.

However, Croatia relented on December 23, when the Serbian education ministry and representatives of the Croat minority in Serbia signed a cooperation memorandum on publishing textbooks in minority languages.

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