Scary Story of the Oriental Museum
Story of the struggle for the Roerichs’ legacy transferred to Russia in documents
It is the second year that the Arbitration Court of Moscow has been hearing the case in the action of the Russian Property Agency for the International Centre of the Roerichs (the ICR) dispossession of the Lopukhins’ estate. The ICR Public Museum by name of Nicholas Roerich has been operating here, in the peaceful Maly Znamensky lane, for many years. The ICR dispossession of the estate will, undoubtedly, result in the destruction of the Museum founded by Svetoslav Roerich. The future fate of the whole Roerichs’ heritage transferred to Russia is closely interwoven with the fate of this Museum.
The Roerichs’ enormous artistic collection value is not less than that of the famous Amber Room lost in the years of the war. Their paintings are regularly sold at the “Sotheby’s” and “Christie’s” auctions, and, proceeding from the prices for the latest three years, any of the canvases could be sold for the amount of a few millions of dollars. However, you cannot assess the collection artistic and spiritual value with these millions – for Russia, the collection is priceless. Part of this collection – 282 paintings which were bequeathed by Roerich to the public museum are held in the State Museum of Oriental Art (SMOA). In fact, it is the SMOA that demands the International Centre of the Roerichs dispossession of the estate. The protracted story when a state museum has been trying to tread to pieces the public one will be 20 years old in November. And this is a real detective story.
The golden collection
The final price of the collection which is now at the disposal of the Oriental Museum cannot be adequately estimated as its exact composition is not known for today.
In 1978, the collection owner – Svetoslav Roerich, Nicholas Roerich’s son, delivered the collection to the USSR for organization of mobile exhibitions. However, that collection is quite different from the one described in the documents of the Oriental Museum now – in terms of the number of paintings, their sizes and titles. The International Centre of the Roerichs (ICR) claiming for the collection by virtue of Svetoslav Rosrich’s testament and last will, has been raising for many years the issue of the present collection conformity with its owner’s list drawn when the collection was imported to the USSR. And the SMOA management considers this to be a closed matter and has more than once stated that the 282 Roerichs’ paintings kept in the museum are accurately enumerated in the acts of this collection acceptance for temporary custody. In the meantime, the collection in its present form only corresponds to the internal documents of the museum itself.
Many documents show: the collection imported to the USSR was different, more complete. The catalogues of those years are still preserved: the paintings were exhibited in Bulgaria, traveled over the USSR museums for some years. The fact that part of the priceless legacy was lost at some stage is beyond any doubt. But when and how did it happen? Were the paintings stolen in the mess of the 90s or before? Did they get anchored here, in private collections, or were they illegally exported from Russia? No doubt, it is the state which held the paintings in temporary custody that must bear responsibility for what has happened. And it is the state that is obliged to carry out investigation and establish the fate of the lost paintings in order to return them. But numerous auditors, under any pretexts, refuse to just compare the collection composition at the time of its import to the USSR and today. It is only compared to the lists drawn by the Oriental Museum itself. Otherwise, many unpleasant questions would have to be answered. And now they seem to raise concerns only of the International Centre of the Roerichs. So, determination of this collection due owner is a question which is obviously very uncomfortable for many participants.
However, “Novaya Gazeta” will attempt to answer this question in the course of its investigation. Copies of all documents related to the described events are kept in the editors’ office. The collection owner himself, living participant of those events Svetoslav Roerich who clearly expressed his opinion in a great number of documents, has become the most important witness for us.
The heritage must belong to people, not to the state
Svetoslav Rosrich’s meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev at the end of the 80s provided a possibility to implement Svetoslav Roerich’s dream – to establish the Museum by name of Nicholas Roerich in Moscow.
When it became known that Roerich is ready to transfer to Russia without compensation his part of the legacy for this Museum creation, “petitioners” started to come to him with the hopes for their share in the legacy.
In his well-known letter “Delay is not Permissible” published in the summer of 1989 in the “Sovetskaya Kultura” newspaper, Svetoslav Roerich attempted to get his idea over to all the petitioners: it is necessary to create a public Centre-Museum to which he will transfer his part of the legacy. The legacy owner insisted on his own concept for development of the Museum to which he intended to assign the legacy: “…The Centre subordination to the Ministry of Culture, and more than that, to the Museum of Oriental Art (SMOA. — Ed.) would result in unjustified, in my opinion, obvious narrowing the Centre’s tasks and possibilities. The Centre should, to my mind, enjoy considerable independence, be flexible, able to function above any departmental barriers. <…>”. The Centre-Museum concept essence is that its most optimal operation can be achieved where it makes part of a public organization”.
A question arises: why the Centre-Museum status must only be a public organization? Svetoslav Roerich had serious reasons for that. The tragic fate of the first part of the legacy which his brother Yuri brought to the USSR in1957 and which Stanislav tried to save from devastation gave him grandiose experience of relations with bureaucrats. He understood already at that time: the state does not intend to created a Museum named after his father. (The “NG” wrote about this in No. 56 dated 4.08.2008)
On November 2, 1989, by virtue of that same Svetoslav Roerich’s appeal, the new organization foundation meeting took place. And Ludmila Shaposhnikova, supported by a few associates, managed to assert its public status.
But the main difficulties were still ahead, when the work on preparation of the Council of Ministers draft resolution started. From the very beginning, this resolution existed in two versions.
L.V. Shaposhnikova’s draft took into consideration all S. N. Roerich’s wishes: establishment of the Centre-Museum by name of Nicholas Roerich, establishment of the Soviet Roerich Foundation of which was to secure its work and creation of the SFR affiliate in Y. Roerich’s former apartment. There was still considerable part of the family legacy brought by his brother there.
The second draft obviously prepared with the Oriental Museum participation was aimed at establishment of the State Centre-Museum by name of Nicholas Roerich as the SMOA affiliate. Only the SFR was to remain a public organization, but without the right to dispose of the legacy. And there was not a singe word of the Roerichs’ legacy left in Yuri Roerich’s apartment what constituted S. Roerich’s special concern.
Only thanks to determined actions of Shaposhnikova who insisted on precise fulfillment of all Roerich’s conditions, she managed to assert the status of a public Centre-Museum as part of the SFR. But she could not save from devastation the part of the legacy left in Yuri Roerich’s apartment. The officers flatly refused to include the provision on the affiliate in the draft.
The Oriental Museum could never succeed in its plans implementation in the open opposition to S. N. Roerich and his authorized person. On 4.11.1989, Resolution of the Council of Ministers No. 950 “On the Soviet Foundation of the Roerichs and the Centre-Museum by name of Nicholas Roerich” was issued.
It seemed, the requirements for mandatory establishment of a public organization for keeping the indivisible legacy were repeated many times personally by Svetoslav Roerich in documents, letters, and orally, at the time when the legacy transportation to Moscow was being organized. Roerich’s notarized will was expressed so clearly and unambiguously that it does not leave any space for interpretation. That is why state officials are trying to evade this subject.
The editors have a video evidencing that, at the end of 1989, at the press-conference dedicated to establishment of the SFR and the Centre-Museum by name of Nicholas Roerich, in the presence of Svetoslav Roerich, the document signed by him was read out loud and such document said: “The Centre-Museum does not claim for collections of paintings of N. K. and S.N. Roerichs, other exhibits held in the Soviet museums and art galleries. But those do not include the exhibition of Nicholas and Svetoslav Roerichs formed by Svetoslav Roerich and brought by him from India in 1978, which is still in the USSR and is S. N. Roerich’s property”. What is implied is Svetoslav Roerich’s collection held in the Oriental Museum. It is hard to put it more clearly.
Roerich’s arrival in Moscow accelerated fulfillment by the state of the second condition for the legacy transfer to Russia – provision of premises in Moscow and their adaptation for the Centre-Museum needs.
The state administration offered Svetoslav Roerich a choice of a few mansions one of which was to host the Public Museum by name of Nicholas Roerich. That is what was said by Roerich himself in his interview given to “Sovetskaya Kultura” on 23.11.89: “I personally chose the former mansion of Princess Lopukhina near the Pushkin Museum for the future Centre-Museum by name of Nicholas Roerich. This is a wonderful corner of old Moscow where the atmosphere is saturated with spirituality and beauty”.
The legacy owner’s will and legacy hunters
At the end of 1989, the Moscow Council provided the Lopukhins’ estate to host the Centre-Museum by name of Nicholas Roerich. When Svetoslav Roerich made sure that the promises given to him were complied with, he invited L.V. Shaposhnikova to his house in Bangalore (India) to prepare the collection for export to Moscow. In March 1990, Svetoslav Roerich, before the Notary of Bangalore, in the presence of witnesses, signed the order: “Roerich’s archive and legacy for the Soviet Foundation in Moscow”. It was on the basis of this document that the legacy was exported from India to Moscow.
The document contains six appendices (No. 1— the Roerichs’ archive, No. 2 — the Roerichs’ library, No. 3 — N. K. Roerich’s paintings, No. 4 and 5 — collection of 288 paintings of S.N. Roerich kept in the SMOA, and No. 6 — the Roerichs’ personal belongings). This list expressly shows what property was transferred without compensation by Svetoslav to Russia to establish the public Museum.
The same document contains two crucial for us issues. Firstly, while Svetoslav was still alive, the Foundation only became entitled to be in charge of the legacy, but without any ownership title. S. N. Roerich reserved his ownership rights. And only after his death, the exclusive rights to the legacy were to pass over to the Foundation (clause 5). As the time showed, it was a wise decision.
Another interesting issue follows from Svetoslav Roerich’s order: it is quite obvious that he was not aware of the collection transfer (pursuant to Ministry of Culture order No. 234 dated 30.05.1989) for temporary custody to the State Museum of Oriental Art.
So, on May 7, 1990, the Roerichs’ legacy arrived in Moscow. It was only left to add to it the part kept in the SMOA. But even when the owner was still alive, the state which had earlier, in 1960, appropriated the same way his brother’s collection (see “Novaya Gazeta” No. 56 for 2008) was not going to give anything back. The SFR sent a number of letters to the SFR with the demand to return the paintings from the Oriental Museum by virtue of the decision of the owner himself.
Then SMOA Director Nabatchikov wrote to the Ministry of Culture that Roerich personally ordered to leave the paintings in the SMOA. The only evidence of this supposition is a certain record tape. Olga Rumiantseva from the Oriental Museum explained: “He (Svetoslav Roerich. — Ed.) told us: I will leave this exhibition in your museum, take good care of it, let it keep making people happy”.
The audio record and its transcript are placed in the Internet by the Oriental Museum itself. Roerich’s meeting with the SMOA management took place on 20.11.1989. The conversation analysis leaves no doubt that polite and cautious Svetoslav Roerich was literally tapped for a phrase which might be construed as a blessing for the collection seizure.
Here are the words uttered by the artist consecutively in answer to each lengthy speech of Rumiantseva and Nabatchikov: “1) Well, thank God. 2) Fine. Fine… 3) OK. 4) We appreciate your attitude, your kind words. I am sure they will remain in worthy hands and carry their goods wishes to all who see them… 5) Yes. 6) Of course”.
The artist literally fires back short or evasive, committing to nothing phrases. Finally he says: “Thank you. I am sure that you will do it this way, so everything will be as I said. Let us separate a few things that will go to India, and then the rest can find home here, with you”. And in a different phrase – “In the museum”. Did he mean the Oriental Museum or his own Museum, created just before this talk?
A delicate and intelligent man who had lost his brother’s whole collection in the struggle with our bureaucracy, not to go into discussion, said only what occupied all his thoughts in the last decades of his life: to transfer the remaining part of the legacy to Russia, into reliable hands that would be able not only to create a museum, but to defend the heritage as well. Not in a single word did he express his wish to transfer the paintings to the state. So what do his words “in the museum” mean? The public Museum established by him or the State Museum of Oriental Art? And “with you”, is it in the SMOA or in Russia?
In fact, this is the main evidence supporting the lawfulness of the claims for the collection on the part of the Museum of Oriental Art. This is all that the SMOA management can produce before court. And the ICR provides documents which we have studied with equal attention as in the case of the audio recording of Roerich’s meeting in the SMOA. We should remember that Roerich especially came to Moscow to make sure that his conditions – establishment of a public organization for holding the legacy and provision of premises in Moscow to this organization had been complied with. And after the conversation in the Oriental Museum, he determined the collection fate not with general words recorded on an audio tape, but with a quite concrete testament certified by a Notary.
On 26.11.1989, in five days after Svetoslav Roerich’s visit to the SMOA during which the audio recording was made, Roerich convened the Soviet Foundation of the Roerichs Board of Directors meeting. SMOA Director Nbatchikov, who was the SFR Board of Directors member at that time, was present at the meeting too. It was then that Svetoslav Roerich’s words which dotted all i’s sounded: “Many organizations and people will be sure to ask and demand some parts of the legacy. Doing so, they will refer to promises given to them or will think that they can dispose of this legacy the best way. We, however, must show firmness and strive to secure the legacy integrity…”
Though, the SMOA was not very much concerned with the opinion of the legacy owner. In his letter to the Ministry of Culture, Nabatchikov stated that “the ICR public museum status arouses a lot of doubt” as specialists and the scientific public believe that creations of such level must be kept in a state institution.
You can easily see the respect for the owner’s will…
In the half of year starting from December 1990, the SFR twice asked the Ministry of Culture to return its collection from the SMOA. It was that same Nabatchikov’s letter signed by Heinrich Popov that was forwarded to the International Centre of the Roerichs as the official answer of the Ministry of Culture.
Popov was the SMOA former director promoted to the Minister. In his relationship with the Roerichs’ legacy, he managed to show remarkable grip.
In the 70s, Catherine Campbell, Helena Roerich’s collaborator, decided to transfer to the USSR her collection of N.K. Roerich’s paintings. She applied to the USSR Embassy in the USA. Y.M. Vorontsov who worked as the Soviet Ambassador adviser for culture at that time, having getting acquainted with the purported gift, advised the USSR Ministry of Culture accordingly. Popov was sent to the USA to accept the collection. He did not lose time there and pulled the wool over the eyes of Campbell, not familiar with the bureaucrats’ insolence. In addition to the specified paintings, Popov took other objects of art, archive materials, and personal belongings of the Roerich family. In doing so, he did not even agree with the donator upon the list of the selected items. What is this if not robbery? This is evidenced by C. Campbell’s letter to the USSR Minister of Culture dated May 6, 1991. At that, only part of the seized by Popov property was subsequently exhibited in the museum. And where is the rest? Obviously, it was this incident that gave rise to the SMOA passion for collecting the Roerichs’ heritage.
Is it more obvious from the top?
As long ago as 1991, the Ministry of Culture already performed the role of a kind of retransmitter of the position of the Oriental Museum which did not want to part with the property owned by somebody else. No position of its own on the part of the Ministry of Culture can be traced in this matter. In the meantime, demands to return the paintings were poured on the Ministry from all sides, including from abroad – from Gisela Ingeborg Fritschi, S. Roerich’s authorized person in Europe.
The Oriental Museum management understood very well: as long as the Centre-Museum created by Svetoslav Roerich has Ludmila Shaposhnikova as its head, they will never see either the legacy, or the estate, and the collection will have to be given back sooner or later too. On 20.06.91, the Oriental Museum scientific board for the Roerich family’s legacy, including Director Nabatchikov, O. Rumiantseva, former museum head G. Popov, issued a strange resolution. Those high persons decided: to relieve V.Y. Lakshin (the SFR Board of Directors Chairman) and L.V. Shaposhnikova (his Deputy and the Museum Director) of managing the SFR and the Centre-Museum by name of Nicholas Roerich. And in clause 10 of the document, the Oriental Museum scientific board strongly recommended not to transfer the paintings from S.N. Roerich’s collection kept in temporary custody from the SMOA to the Centre-Museum by name of Nicholas Roerich.
It was getting ridiculous: in January 1992, the Oriental Museum mailed invitations to the All-Union Roerich Conference. It was written in the conference schedule: “… item 2. Removal of L.V. Shaposhnikova as the main obstacle in the cause of uniting the spiritual potential of the country and, consequently, its renaissance. item. 3. Passing resolution on the SFR new management composition”.
Those episodes excellently characterize the style of the struggle of the State Museum of Oriental Art for the Roerichs’ collection. Well, Roerich has bequeathed the collection to the SMOA — we have an audio tape, and besides, we have decided to dismiss our opponents.
But what recording can be spoken about where Roerich, the paintings owner, is alive, healthy, and one can just call him? How can it be possible to dismiss the management of an independent public organization by decision of a state museum scientific board? The documents confirming these pearls of legal thought are kept in the editors’ office.
“We can only pin our hopes on your insanity”
For breach of the SFR Charter and opposition to S. N. Roerich’s will, Nabatchikov was dismissed from the SFR Board of Directors. It was necessary to keep working: pursuant to the law, all previously established public organizations were to undergo re-registration with the Ministry of Justice before 31.12.1991. For this purpose, by the SFR Board of Directors decision, a specially convened conference introduced corresponding amendments and supplements into the SFR Charter. This is how the SFR was reorganized into the ICR.
The State Museum of Oriental Art did not stay idle either. Letters containing the following statements and demands were forwarded to President Yelstin and the Ministry of Culture: “To consider the issue of the Roerichs’ legacy transfer into state custody”, “We consider transfer of S.N. and N.K. Roerichs’ paintings from the Museum of Oriental Art to the International Cultural Centre of the Roerichs inadmissible”. Rumiantseva summed it up without any particular arguments in her interview to Indian newspaper DECCAN HERALD: “This Centre has no prospect”.
Life has corrected her. Today, the Lopukhin’s estate is the pride of the national school of restoration. The ICR Museum is maintained exemplarily. And what about the long-suffering collection owner? In April 1992, Svetoslav Roerich confirmed by a special letter the role of the established by him ICR and the authorities of Shaposhnikova who complies with all his instructions in respect of the transferred legacy and is his authorized person and representative.
In his letter to President Yeltsin, Roerich asked to help to return the paintings from the SMOA to the ICR. In another letter, he informed “all the Roerich societies that Mr. Sidorov and Mrs. Rumiantseva have made misleading and untrue statements in respect of myself, my legacy, and Mrs. Shaposhnikova”. It seems, such unambiguous statements of Roerich himself should have put an end to any polemics.
And indeed, in the summer of 1992, the Ministry of Culture, on the basis of the RF President’s order caused by S. N. Roerich’s appeal to him, confirmed the ICR rights to S. N. Roerich’s collection kept in the Museum of Oriental Art.
However, the Oriental Museum was not going to surrender its positions and resorted to truly melodramatic methods.
All the authorities of Shaposhnikova and the ICR were confirmed by Roerich from India. He did it absolutely of his own will – all that closely knew him assure as one person that it was useless to put any pressure on him. But afterwards, a rumor went around, retold to us by that same Rumiantseva: “Shaposhnikova went to see Roerich in the spring of 1990, brought a whole heap of documents from him, and there were witnesses who saw that he did not feel well by that time and signed all documents without reading. And secretary Mary Poonacha helped Shaposhnikova.
She brought a so called deed of gift with a list of paintings attached to it which does not correspond to the list that we have. That is, it corresponds partially. The author’s numbers of the paintings, painting sizes, titles. Probable, he did not want to give her these paintings, I do not know. It is hard to say. The deed of gift was written for 288 paintings, but in reality they were 282, those that we got from the All-Union Production and Artistic Association and those that arrived from Bulgaria. All the relevant documents are in place. It was written there that he, Svetoslav, transfered the paintings kept in the Oriental Museum to the Soviet Foundation of the Roerichs, but on condition that he could take back one or all pieces. And this legally supersedes the whole deed of gift. Besides, it was addressed to the Soviet Foundation of the Roerichs, and in the meantime, Shaposhnikova renamed herself into the ICR, but there was no meeting of founders, other formalities required for this procedure were not complied with either. It means that, from the legal point of view, the ICR is not the successor of the Soviet Roerich Foundations. And what is the most important thing – her list does not correspond to ours”.
And here we again come to the question which we have already mentioned in our story: whose list is correct?
“Of course, ours, Rumiantseva assures. Obviously, Svetoslav was subject to too much pressure and, to defend himself at least somehow, he gave a wrong list. This is my opinion, and I expressed it before court”.
So, this is what we have as dry residue (according to the version of a SMOA active participant in the struggle with the International Centre of the Roerichs):
1. Svetoslav is depicted by O. Rumiantseva as an inadequate person who signed documents without reading.
2. It is adventurer Poonacha that helped, as it turns out, Shaposhnikova, the one who sent fake letters to President Yeltsin on behalf of Roerich’s wife, the chief performer in the initial attack against the ICR and Shaposhnikova.
3. The testament executed by Roerich personally is a so called deed of gift.
4. Roerich gave to Shaposhnikova paintings for transportation to the USSR, but in fact, he did not want to give them. And for this specific purpose, he sent a fake list with the collection. To defend himself from Shaposhnikova.
5. The lists of paintings in the testament are wrong, because they do not correspond to the SMOA list.
According to Olga Rumiantseva, an image of a confused, intimidated, half insane man arises in one’s mind, a man who deliberately drew a fake list for his whole family’s legacy to cheat God knows whom, and to defend himself this way. But this picture is in violent discrepance with the image of a sober, clever, and extremely reasonable man which appeared in Svetoslav Roerich’s letters, documents, and on video recordings of the same period of time.
When the patriarch was still alive, nobody had any doubts as to his legal capacity or the accuracy of the legacy list prepared by him. The SMOA employees would not dare to say anything like that either, they communicated with him using almost servile expressions.
Roerich cannot interfere any more
In the autumn, preparation of the RF Government resolution draft started: to transfer the Lopukhins’ estate to the International Centre of the Roerichs for uncompensated use and to give to it S. N. Roerich’s collection from the State Museum of Oriental Art. But in Russia, the state power levels are often stronger than ownership rights. By the SMOA efforts, the draft was put into cold storage.
So, after the SFR reorganization into the ICR, the Oriental Museum started a campaign aimed at holding the ICR non-successor of the SFR. This would make it possible not to give the collection to the ICR, as, on the basis of his order dated 1990, Roerich transferred the legacy to the SFR.
But the legacy owner was still alive and could at any time and at his own discretion change its subsequent owner. What else could be done by Svetoslav Roerich whose will was once again ignored? In October 1992, he confirmed before the Notary in Bangalore the ICR rights to the legacy transferred to the SFR.
From that time, the issue of succession in relation to the transferred legacy upon which the SMOA seized was of no relevance: the main point in this issue was how Roerich himself disposed of the legacy, not the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Culture, or the State Museum of Oriental Art.
But on 30.01.1993, death befell Svetoslav Roerich, and his order “Roerich’s archive and legacy for the Soviet Roerich Foundation in Moscow” became S. N. Roerich’s last will. And the document signed by him with the Notary in Bangalore in October 1992 – an addendum to his last will.
But the Oriental Museum had an unchangeable trump up its sleeve: the alliance with the officers creating and modifying rules in the course of the game. And just in three days after Roerich’s death, the Ministry of Justice ordered that the ICR strike off the Carter the reference to succession to the SFR. In 20 days, the Oriental Museum received this order from the Ministry of Justice and, on the same day, the Fund Commission meeting passed resolution on the necessity to transfer S. N. Roerich’s collection from temporary custody to permanent.
Then the SMOA Director’s order No. 13 on transition of 282 Roerichs’ paintings from temporary custody to permanent followed the only basis for which was the report of the Roerichs’ fund custodian Olga Rumiantseva.
The legal basis for a state museum placing the collection on permanent record can only be the state ownership title to this collection, which is absent, and a mandatory order of the Ministry of Culture after it performs the relevant examination, and not the order of Director Nabatchikov. So, the assertion that S. N. Roerich’s collection is included in the state portion of the RF museum fund contradicts the law of the RF. No matter what documents are produced by the Museum of Oriental Art.
After S. N. Roerich’s death, the SMOA returned with new energy to implementation of its long-cherished idea: on the pretext of establishment of a state museum, to liquidate the Public Museum by name of Nicholas Roerich. But not everybody forgot Roerich’s last will. Chairman of the Committee for Culture of the RF Supreme Council F. D. Polenov wrote to the Government and the Ministry of Culture that it was impossible to establish the state museum: Roerich had set a mandatory condition – the public status of the entity holding the legacy. In the middle of April 1993, Deputy Minister of Culture wrote to the ICR President that they were ready to deliver to it S. N. Roerich’s collection from the State Museum of Oriental Art. Minister of Culture Sidorov, in his letter to Deputy Chairman of the Committee for Culture of the RF SC Council of Republic P. D. Kuritsin, also recognized the ICR rights to S. N. Roerich’s collection kept in the SMOA.
Mary changes the heir
But it was too late. Roerich was dead, and SMOA Director Nabatchikov asked First Vice Prime Minister Lobov to transfer to his Museum the Lopukhins’ estate and the whole legacy taking it from the ICR. He absolutely needed to justify his claims with something material. And then the speculation with Svetoslav Roerich’s secretary Mary Poonacha was performed with great success. “Novaya Gazeta” has provided a detailed coverage of this “transaction” and the role of the Oriental Museum employees in it.
In June 1993, R. B. Rybakov (the former SFR Deputy Chairman who left the Foundation for this particular reason – disagreement with Roerich’s concept of the Museum public status), speaking on radio air of the All-Union State TV and Radio Company, read fragments of an interesting letter of S. N. Roerich’s former secretary Mary Poonacha. “Madam Devika Rani (Svetoslav Roerich’s widow. — Ed.) is now thinking of recalling back to India the whole legacy of Roerich”.
According to Rybakov, one day, he received a fax with the corresponding claim from Mary Poonacha. The fax text fitted in one page. 1/3 of it was a letter to Rybakov signed by Poonacha, and 2/3 – a letter to the RF President signed by nobody. According to Rybakov, the author was Devika Rani herself and nobody else. The SMOA immediately published that letter, but naturally, without Mary Poonacha’s postscript. The situation absurdity was the fact that her husband S. Roerich had not granted to Devika Rani any rights of succession in respect of his parents’ property. Consequently, even if it were possible to presume that she wanted to change her husband’s testament, she would not have been able to do it as she had no due authority.
The falsification was organized untidily: Poonacha put two letters together on one page. This is not the way to write to a President.
However, those doubtful arguments alone were enough for the Ministry of Culture pendulum of sympathy move away from the ICR. Another time, having disregarded legal nuances, on the basis of Poonacha’s letters, the Ministry of Culture suspended passing resolution of transfer of the Lopukhins’ estate to the ICR for uncompensated use. The SMOA triumphed.
On 03.10.93, Rybakov received by fax from Mary Poonacha another letter addressed to the President. Now Poonacha performed what was required: only the letter to the President, without any postscripts. It contained an ultimatum on behalf of Devika Rani: if the state museum is not established, she will take the legacy back to India. The perturbed Government immediately changed its mind as to compliance with the great artist’s last will and, on the basis of a fake letter in the form of a fax, issued resolution No. 1121 “On Establishment of the State Museum by name of Nicholas Roerich” in the Lopukhins’ estate as the SMOA affiliate. Thus, the SMOA still had its way four years after.
Under such circumstances, Shaposhnikova herself had to fight for the public Museum survival and preservation of at least that portion of the legacy that she had brought from India from Svetoslav Roerich to establish the Museum. Though she was not alone, and the names of her supporters would do honor to anyone. D. S. Likhachev applied with a letter to President Yeltsin who instructed the Governmet to examine this matter. Academicians V. V. Struminsky, A. L. Yanshin, and other scientists of the RAS (Russian Academy of Science) also asked to reverse RF Government Resolution No. 1121. How Ludmila Shaposhnikova managed to defend both the estate and the Museum was described by “Novaya Gazeta” in No. 15 for 2008. Having won back the ruined estate, the ICR continued its restoration and adaptation for the Museum.
In the autumn 1997, in the presence of Minister of Culture T. Dementieva, the opening of the permanent exposition of the Public Museum by name of Nicholas Roerich took place in the restored main building of the estate. By that time, the state officers tried to establish some kind of a “balance” in the property issue. It was decided to leave the Lopukhins’ estate to the ICR in order to execute S. N. Roerich’s will, and to assign the collection of 282 paintings to the SMOA. The Arguments of the Museum of Oriental Art became the arguments of the Ministry of Culture – the ICR is not a successor of the Soviet Roerich Foundation.
Shaposhnikova continued to demand that Svetoslav Roerich’s will be complied with and his collection be returned, or that the documents of title for the collection be provided. Since those documents could only be a testament or a deed of gift in favor of the state or the Oriental Museum, the officers categorically refused to answer this questions all the subsequent years. Only in two years, Shaposhnikova received an answer from Shvydkoi: “The Ministry believes that the position taken by the International Centre of the Roerichs only allows us to settle this issue in a judicial procedure”. Unfortunately, the court as an institute was quite a manageable part of the state bureaucratic mechanism by that time.
The officers offered the ICR to play on their field and by their rules. Keeping a remote control in the pocket. By 2000, the Oriental Museum already did not conceal its initial position: from the very beginning when the SFR and the Centre-Museum were being established, it was opposed to S. N. Roerich’s concept of a public Centre-Museum beyond the SMOA control and to his last will – that the transferred legacy must be held by a public organization.
Where did a portion of legacy disappear?
So, the ICR had to get involved in litigations imposed on it by the Ministry of Culture. In 2001, it filed an action with the Arbitration Court of the city of Moscow. The ICR claims boiled down to the following: in accordance with the legal will of its owner, S. N. Roerich, the collection was to be transferred from the State Museum of Oriental Art to the International Centre of the Roerichs.
Of course, the Ministry of Culture kept the same casuistic position: the ICR is not the SFR legal successor. The fact that the ICR succession rights to the legacy transferred to the SFR were confirmed before the Notary by Svetoslav Roerich himself remained unnoticed. The court did not go into the documents provided by the ICR at all. It was quite satisfied with the letter of the Oriental Museum which stated that all the documents confirming this collection receipt from S. N. Roerich had been lost. (By the way, the editors have an act of acceptance by the USSR Ministry of Culture of S. N. Roerich’s collection.)
One of the ICR claims in court was the collection examination for the purpose of checking its integrity and compliance with the initial documents. And it was very dangerous for the Museum of Oriental Art: the collection was only formally considered integral. In reality, part of paintings was lost, some of them popped up in foreign collections. Others proved to be in terms of many parameters different from those that arrived in the country in 1978.
The exhibition lasted for almost two years. After it finished, <…> the VPHO categorically refused to take back their part. The chief custodian told me: “Olga Vladimirovna, there will be only wood left of the paintings” <…>. They said: we will not take them back, let them be kept by you, but we shall not put them on your record either”.
“Novaya Gazeta” studied the documents relating to the story described by Rumiantseva. There is an obvious difference between the documents of those years and the her later interpretation.
So, on November 2, 1978, S. N. Roerich’s collection of 296 paintings was delivered to the Ministry of Culture of the USSR for temporary custody for the purpose of organization mobile exhibitions all over the country. The first exhibition took place in the Russian Museum in Leningrad. Then the collection was taken to other cities of the USSR, and, in 1979, was brought to Moscow.
According to the SMOA information, the first lot of paintings from the collection was received in the museum in December 1980. Those were 91 paintings from the Vuchetich VPHO – there is act No. 5443 dated 16.12.1980. Only 62 paintings were given back what is also confirmed by act No. 7 dated 17.03.1981. In 1984, on O. Rumiantseva’s application, the SMOA got other 233 paintings from S. N. Roerich’s collection (act No. 210 dated 15.11.1984), and in 1985, 20 more paintings arrived at the SMOA (act No. 35 dated 28.03.1985).
It follows from O. Rumiantseva’s story that the VPHO employees practically forced her to take the collection to the Oriental Museum. However, the editors have her note to the Ministry of Culture with a request to leave this collection in the SMOA. It is obvious from the text that the initiator of the collection retention was not at all the VPHO, but Rumiantseva herself.
This is what Alexander Stetsenko, the International Centre of the Roerichs representative, says.
“Pursuant to act No. 4193 dated 2.11.1978, 300 paintings were to be received from Bulgaria (132 paintings by Nicholas Roerich and 168 – by Svetoslav Roerich). But only 296 paintings actually arrived, initially, 4 Svetoslav Roerich’s paintings did not arrive, and three paintings by Nicholas Roerich were replaced with others, not specified in the list. Afterwards, N. K. Roerich’s paintings which were initially missing were delivered to the USSR. It is evidenced by the acts of museums where the first exhibitions took place. And now they are absent in the SMOA. It might be that the initially missing 4 paintings by Svetoslav Roerich were also delivered to the USSR. On the basis of the collection receipt act, 7 paintings by Nicholas Roerich and 4 paintings by Svetoslav Roerich given by Roerich to Bulgaria were to be returned to Bulgaria . We do not know what paintings, when, and by virtue of what documents were sent from the USSR. The questions that we forwarded in this connection to the Ministry of Culture and then to Federal Agency for Culture and Cinematography head M. E. Shvydkoi were never answered. But the fact remains: now, there are only 282 paintings in the Museum of Oriental Art, while pursuant to the testament of their owner, it is 288 paintings that are supposed to be in Russia. We know that Svetoslav Roerich did not withdraw anything from his testament, so the absence of six paintings in the collection is illegal.
Comparing the collection composition today with the paintings that initially arrived in the USSR, we discover that the composition of the collection kept in the SMOA is considerably changed in terms of many characteristics. I have performed analysis of many lists of this collection, starting from the documents of the collection owner and of the exhibition in Bulgaria after which it arrived in the USSR.I have studied delivery and acceptance acts of many museums where the collection was exhibited and the lists of the SMOA itself. The analysis results are striking: many paintings in the SMOA do not correspond to the collection initial composition not only in terms of sizes (the discrepancy reaches 100 cm), but in terms of the technique and titles as well. The study results were published in 2004. But the authorities responsible for preservation of cultural heritage have not got interested in this problem until today. The checks that they have performed were only limited to the comparison of the available paintings correspondence to the lists of the Oriental Museum itself, but not to the initial composition of the collection”.
To prove its rights to the collection, the Oriental Museum has produced not a deed of gift or testament, but just act No. 54 dated 12.03.1993 on the paintings transfer from temporary to permanent custody. This is not an ownership document – this an acceptance note for the goods where the Museum of Oriental Art acts as both the provider and the receiver. But the court considered this acceptance note valid evidence. The court did not work with any other arguments.
While the SMOA, on the threshold of the arbitration proceedings of 2001, performed its own “work with the documents” to make them more fit for its version of events. It was just the right time for the Prosecutor’s Office to get on alert, but, for some reason, this murky story left it indifferent.
The attempt to recompose the story with the collection receipt turned out to be so easily seen through that it amazed even third party specialists. We have found a witness who worked with the documents of that period of time. Provincial researcher Shevelev, in fact, quite by chance discovered the mechanism of the Roerichs’ unique collection embezzlement. Here is his story.
Our research time period was from 1978 to 1993. We studied the VHPO documents: acceptance and delivery acts which specified that a certain number of paintings was given to the Oriental Museum. We also compared our results with the report of the Oriental Museum audit by the RF Chamber of Accounts “On transfer of the Roerichs’ paintings to the Museum of Oriental Art”. And the first thing that caught our eye is the fact that far from all documents related to the Roerichs’ collection transfer from the VHPO to the museum were specified in the report.
The official report only mentioned delivery act for 91 paintings No. 5443 dated December 16, 1980. It has a four-digit registration number. And the next document with which the Accounts Chamber worked in accordance with its own report is act No. 5753 confirming return to the VHPO of 62 paintings dated March 17, 1981. Oriental Museum General Director A. V. Sedov wrote in his article in the “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” in May of the last year that the only basis for legal movements of paintings from the Roerichs’ collection can be the acts of delivery and acceptance. He refers to the above two acts. But another act, No. 210, which Sedov mentions as the evidence does not exist in the VHPO – it has a three-digit registration number, and there are no numbers like that in the VHPO archive history. The last act in Sedov’s evidence base already has a two-digit number – 35. I repeat, the VHPO registered all acts of the same period using four-digit numbers.
The canvases movements took place, according to Sedov, from 1980 to 1989. It will be essential for us as researchers.
It looks Sedov has no idea at all of the acts of paintings delivery to the Museum of Oriental Art in 1989. It means that both the Chamber of Accounts in its audit report and Sedov in his article provide incomplete and, to put it mildly, incorrect information. And questions arise: what was the actual way of the paintings delivery and return? We suppose that the acts with two-digit and three-digit numbers are internal documents of the Oriental Museum.
But if those are internal documents of the Oriental Museum confirming the Roerichs’ paintings acceptance, they must correspond to the delivery acts of the VHPO and must be dated the same day! The information on the number of delivered and accepted exhibits must coincide as well. And such documents are absent in the VHPO archive at all. But then the SMOA acts cannot serve as the evidence of the delivery procedure correctness.
Act No. 210 date November 15, 1984, according to the Account Chamber report, certifies delivery by VHPO of 233 paintings from Svetoslav Roerich’s collection. While we discovered VHPO act No. 6919 dated October 2, 1984, confirming delivery of 253 paintings! But neither Sedov in his article, nor the Chamber of Accounts mention the fact of delivery of 253 paintings and the relevant document. However, this document does exist, and Oriental Museum senior officer O. V. Rumiantseva, by her own hand, with a red pen (afterwards it turned out to be an important detail) confirmed acceptance of 253 paintings from the VHPO. (In her interview, O. V. Rumiantseva concealed this act. She did not tell the court of its existence either. — Ed.)
So, against Rumiantseva’s signature, VHPO delivered 253 paintings, but the Oriental Museum accepted only 233, and only after one and a half months – under acceptance act No. 210 dated 15.11.1984. We want to understand where are those 20 paintings. The Accounts Chamber report says: “In 1985, 20 paintings were delivered to the museum from the VHPO fund under act No. 35 dated March 28, 1985, for organization of exhibition “N. K. Roerich and S. N. Roerich”. Such act could be written God knows how – this is not a document of the VHPO which did not have two-digit act registration numbers in its archives. We have VHPO documents of that period, they are all four-digit. We cannot understand whose act is act No. 35, as even the Oriental Museum act numbers were three-digit!
It can be concluded that the formally drawn document just corrected the lack of 20 paintings which was “noticed” in half a year. We have not seen the act itself, it is just mentioned in the report of the Accounts Chamber.
In the folder of delivery acts, directly before this discovered by us VHPO act No. 6919, there is a sheet of paper written by hand. And there is a calculation written with a ball pen: “282 — 253 = 29 paintings”.
This sheet of paper written by someone as a reminder not to forget the difference between allegedly accepted and delivered exhibits is not bound, is just lying between strictly accountable documents.
But most of all we were bewildered by the fact that the first act of delivery of 253 Roerich’s paintings from the VHPO dated 2.10.1984, being a strictly accountable document, bound and executed in compliance with the rules, has no continuous sheet numbering. The numbers are entered by hand. The act says that a list of paintings on 66 pages is attached to it. In compliance with the execution rules, the list should be included in continuous numbering of the sheets in the delivery acts folder. But there is no list of paintings delivered to the Museum of Oriental Arts including their descriptions. 66 sheets are withdrawn from the bound file. There are no documents of withdrawal or any corrections clarifications. The page following the withdrawn list is numbered with a red pen as 287th, and a new number of the page – 221 – is entered beside. It is of essence that O. V. Rumiantseva who accepted the paintings twice wrote in the act: “accepted without the contents examination”. Because of withdrawal of a detailed list of 253 delivered from VHPO paintings on 66 pages, we cannot understand today which paintings were specified in the act.
A RosIZO employee who has been working there for 30 years has told us that she remembers very well the whole procedure of the Roerichs’ paintings receipt in 1979. For a few days, they stayed in sealed cases. Then, the employees of the Oriental Museum arrived and took them. After that, the paintings never appeared again in the RosIZO premises: by Svetoslav Roerich’s decision, they were included in mobile exhibitions. The paintings would leave the Oriental Museum for a mobile exhibition and then came back to the museum. After that, the Oriental Museum was to return them to VHPO until the next exhibition (and some of the intervals were quite long). But it never returned them. Though, according to the documents, procedures of the paintings delivery from the VHPO to the Oriental Museum and their acceptance back were constantly taking place. Most probably, the delivery documents were written formally, without actual movement of the paintings.
We do not know yet where the paintings were actually kept and who counted them. Those were supposed to be the VHPO employees. But we already understand that, according to the VHPO employees, the paintings were actually absent in the storage. It is necessary to find out from which funds the 20 paintings came in half a year after the date when, in accordance with an official document, they had already been delivered to the Oriental Museum. There are funds of state and non-state custody, temporary and permanent, restoration funds, etc. It might be not just negligence, there is some kind of a story here.
We have also found a receipt of the Oriental Museum employee Golenischeva-Kutuzova saying that she visited the VHPO in 2201 and borrowed there certain acts for one day. It is at that time that the ICR raised the question of the lawfulness of the Roerich’s paintings being kept in the SMOA and demanded to specify their number. The Oriental Museum employees immediately started to raise old documents and calculate post factum the number of paintings that came and were returned. An investigation began, and the SMOA started to adjust the results.
According to Oriental Museum General Director A. V. Sedov’s information in the article “Around Roerich” in “Nezavasamaya Gazeta” dated 22.05.2008, in the Oriental Museum, “the exhibition composition (288 paintings owned by S. N. Roerich were implied) changed more than once in the past years”. The question is, what was the basis for changing this composition without agreeing upon with the owner of the paintings which had delivered them to the USSR Government for temporary custody?
Without judicial investigation
Nothing can be added to or detracted from this testimony. Golenischeva-Kutuzova could take delivery acts from the VHPO archive only by order of Svydkoi’s administration: this is a gross violation of the archive documents keeping procedure. Afterwards, the SMOA modified many acts. And those internal accounting documents, besides, “corrected” to meet the Oriental Museum’s version, were not examined or checked by the court, but were held authentic.
Olga Rumiantseva herself told us a different version, though without any reference to any documents: “When I took all the paintings, I received from VHPO 282 paintings under an act. And then the trials started. First I thought that 6 paintings were lost somewhere because I had no initial documents. But the initial documents that arrived from Svetoslav to the Russian Museum and with which I got acquainted confirmed that everything was honest. And we proved at the trials that there were 282 paintings”.
Our protagonist is dissembling. The legal case files include Rumiantseva’s personal testimony that all the documents confirming the collection delivery from Bulgaria were lost. Though the act of the collection receipt in the USSR in 1978 was published by the ICR in a few years after the arbitration proceedings. Moreover, after the trial, the SMOA misrepresented the situation to the General Prosecutor’s office as well. “Novaya Gazeta” has the letter of General Prosecutor Ustinov saying that the General Prosecutor’s Office established that, in 1978, S. N. Roerich’s collection consisting of 282 paintings arrived in the USSR from Bulgaria. As if it was dictated by Rumiantseva.
The SMOA did not prove its rights for the collection before the court. Nothing like that is mentioned in any document of those proceedings. Vice versa, the court, having refused to satisfy the ICR claims without examining S. N. Roerichs’ documents, suggested that the SMOA confirm its rights to the collection in other proceedings if it considers it necessary. What it has not done until today and will never do.
Cassation instances did not sustain the ICR’s claims. There are obvious and objective signs that the defendants got assistance on the part of the court: it was never ordered that they deliver documents confirming their right to hold the collection. The officers lost any constraints. One of the Ministry of Culture letters stated quite freely: “The state never received from S. N. Roerich or kept 288 paintings. There were 282 of these pieces of art from the very beginning and they are all completely preserved”. But the act kept in the editors’ office testifies that, in 1978, the state represented by the Ministry of Culture received 296 paintings. It was not shown to the tribunal.
And if S. Roerich, the collection owner, specified that there were 288 paintings still left in the USSR, which paintings were enumerated in his testament, that means he had serious grounds for that.
Operation “No single step back!”
Unfortunately, it is not possible to ask former SMOA Director Nabatchikov about the Oriental Museum relations with the International Centre of the Roerichs, as he is dead. However, we have discussed this subject with Olga Rumiantseva. According to her, the conflict cannot be settled:
— From this Centre foundation in 1989, we exist in opposite fields with it…The conflict essence – they want to take from us the paintings. They have already taken the building… (this is about the estate which hosted the Public Museum by name of Nicholas Roerich by Gorbachev’s personal order and which not a single day had any relation to the Museum of Oriental Art. — Ed.) out paintings by the Roerichs …”
To the question if peaceful coexistence with the ICR might be possible in the future, Rumiantseva answered: “Never, it is 100% impossible. And, first of all, because they stubbornly persist in it”.
What Olga Rumiantseva calls stubbornness is the ICR’s persistent demands to fulfill the will of their founder S. N. Roerich expressed in his last will. Svetoslav Roerich expressly specified: the collection must be held not by the State Museum of Oriental Art, but by the public Museum which he himself created.
And not to give back the collection, the State Museum of Oriental Art chose the simplest way: to liquidate the Public Museum by name of Nicholas Roerich claiming for the collection by way of the ICR dispossession of the Lopukhins’ estate. No public Museum – no need to give the collection. And if get hold of the Lopukhins’ estate as well, all the legacy kept in it will also go to the SMOA.
The Khamovniki Court paradox
The ICR’s serious attempt to enforce its inheritance rights turned into a judicial series in the Khamovniki Court of the city of Moscow which started in 2002. The judge was obviously not familiar with the state position in respect of the Roerichs’ legacy, and, simplemindedly, acted in accordance with the law – confirmed the ICR rights to Svetoslav Roerich’s inheritance property as per the latter’s testament. This is when Minister of Culture Shvydkoi and the Museum of Oriental Art got startled!
By way of supervisory appeal, Shvydkoi requested to reverse the Khamovniki Court judgment and to deny the ICR’s application for recognizing the fact of the inheritance property receipt. It is quite understandable: the absence of the state’s rights for the legacy is the weakest point in its position. And there is absolutely no way to make it stronger.
Of course, the “anti-state” decision of the Khamovniki Court was reversed by the higher instances. But the ICR already groped this Achilles’ heal of the seemingly invincible claimer for the inheritance. It resolutely demanded that the officers of the Ministry of Culture deliver documents confirming their rights to hold the legacy. The Centre of the Roerichs felt by far more confident in this matter: it had produced in court the opinion of a Senior Lawyer of the Supreme Court of India examining the documents executed by S. N. Roerich – citizen of India, and certified by Indian Notaries. Those documents left no doubt: the last will and testament and the appendix thereto evidenced that S. N. Roerich had disposed of the legacy delivered by him to Russia specifically in favor of the ICR.
And what was the answer of Shvydkoi’s representative? To prove the state’s right for the Roerichs’ collection, Oriental Museum act No. 54 was produced before the court, which act was quite different from the one delivered to the arbitration court in 2001. The ICR drew the tribunal’s attention to significant discrepancies between the two acts. The fraud threatened a big scandal. But the power did not reel. The judge was substituted and the trial continued. At one of the hearings, in the absence of the ICR representatives and other interested parties, the new judged decided the case. Of course, in favor of the state. Nobody expected such impudent turn of events. Later, the International Centre of the Roerichs managed to have this absurd judgment vacated, the Khamovniki Court even appointed a new judge. However, it became clear: the people trying to snatch out the great legacy from the ICR would go to any extremes.
A paradoxical situation formed – nobody except the ICR could confirm the rights to S. N. Roerich’s inheritance property. The Federal Agency for Culture and Cinematography had to inform the court that it was not any more an interested party and withdrew from the proceedings. Representatives of the tax service and the Federal Service for Supervision Over Observation of the Law in the Sphere of Mass Communications and Cultural Heritage followed its example. It seemed, the last obstacles were removed. Now, nobody except the ICR claimed for the Roerichs’ legacy and the court was to reconfirm the ICR rights to it by virtue of Svetoslav Roerich’s testament. Almost after three years, the case examination on the merit started again. And in 2006, the judge suddenly declared: the ICR application was denied on the grounds that the he saw a property dispute in this case. The judge was asked who disputed the ICR rights, but he kept silent.
The ICR never succeeded to take review against this judgment.
So, what is the reason that they do not want to recognize the ICR as S. N. Roerich’s heir? It seems this situation already happened before, when, in 1960, the Ministry of Culture of the USSR did not let Svetoslav Roerich himself to exercise his inheritance right in respect of his brother’s property.
But the story of the ICR’s dispossession of the Lopukhins’ estate, on the contrary, continued. In 2007, the State Museum of Oriental Art had the Russian Property Agency file a corresponding action with the Arbitration Court of the city of Moscow and participated in the proceedings as an interested party. The instance of trial examined the case for more than a year and dismissed the plaintiff’s claim due to the statute of limitations.
The initiator of the Roerich’s child liquidation – the SMOA – did not stop there, and succeeded in the judgment reversal in the cassation instance. Now it is again pending in the instance of trial. As we remember, Rumiantseva complained that she was being deprived of everything. So, who wants to drive whom out of the house? For the first time in Russia, a state museum is trying to liquidate a public one. And the reason is the acquisitive ambitions of the Oriental Museum, its wish to get hold of the whole legacy of the Roerichs, and the urge to keep the secret of S. N. Roerich’s collection.
Anatoly Karpov: let the witness talk
The departure of the owner who struggled with the Russian bureaucracy for the right to dispose of his own property until his last minute has given a free hand to his opponents. However, there is a witness quite deserving trust: he has created his reputation with his whole life and not a single time gave anybody any grounds to question his honor. This is Anatoly Karpov, the famous chess player, one of those sportsmen who have made the glory of the national sport. The following is his story of the circumstances under which the Soviet Foundation of the Roerichs was being established.
“Our first meeting took place by mutual initiative, though Roerich was waiting for it even more. At that time, he was already not young and quite determined to return the legacy to Russia. He had already met Gorbachev for this purpose. And at our meeting, he expressed himself this way: it looks that his plans are understood by the top leaders, but as a man who has lived many years, he knows that presidents can change and one president’s guarantees are not enough. He must have had second sight!
Besides, Roerich told me that he did not want that the legacy become the property of the state, despite its leader’s guarantees. I want to emphasize that he said it directly and clearly, in such manner that it is impossible to interpret his words any other way. He wanted that a public organization be established for the legacy transfer. And when I asked: “Why not the state?” he answered that state museums will not create the required conditions, and in the event there is a public organization, the state can participate in the control over the legacy fate, and the control will be double.
Svetoslav understood that he had many admirers and followers, the public organization will be serious, with famous people who will be able to ensure the legacy safety and to use it the right way. What has, in fact, been happening in Russia so far. And since everything was just starting, he wanted that some powerful organization act as a legal and financial guarantor at the initial stage.
To some extent, Roerich was already prepared for that. He did not export back to India the collection part stored in the Oriental Museum. And he kept saying that the legacy must be in the hands of a public organization.
But what did the struggle of the state against the collection transfer to a public organization reflect? The thing is that our attitude towards public organizations has only started changing in the latest years. And at that time, the state treated them as an unserious and unnecessary phenomenon.
The logic was as follows: we do not care what Roerich may want, all control here belongs to us. And then it was simple – the museum applied to the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry immediately took the side of the museum which is subordinated to it by vertical.
When we are talking of the logic of top officials, I rather find it bureaucratic. But when we get one level down, I think, the pragmatically material motives in the actions of the participants in the struggle for the Roerichs’ legacy on the part of the state deserve a serious check.
When the legacy was brought to Russia, the Soviet Union was falling apart and a very tense financial situation formed. For some time, the Foundation of Peace paid for the legacy security. Until Gaidar’s reforms – for about one year and a half. Then the Foundation ruble part burned, same as all savings of the Russian citizens, and it became very difficult for us to fulfill our obligations.
Then I wrote a letter to President Yeltsin: we could not carry this burden any more. I reminded that the guarantor and initiator of the legacy return was the USSR President, that is the state. And Boris Yeltsin himself was the President of the successor state, that is bore direct responsibility for the guarantees granted by Gorbachev. I would not like to protrude my role in those events: the main struggle was conducted by other people. On the whole, nobody tried to put pressure on me at that time. My position was quite serious – I was elected as a people’s deputy, and I had other, quite big possibilities to preserve independence.
Talking about that story participants, of course, I knew personally Shaposhnikova. I knew very well Vorontsov, even before I met Roerich. (Afterwards, Y. M. Vorontsov became the ICR President and held that position until his death. — Ed.). It was a great intellect. Not many people know today that, some time ago, relations between India and USSR were rather tensed, and only thanks to him, it was possible to preserve them at the traditionally good, friendly level.
His name means a lot in India. And there were many people in India who did not want to lose such collection. It is hard to overestimate Vorontsov’s role in this matter.
Shaposhnikova took an unchangeable position from the very beginning and, in the long run, the result was Roerich’s will fulfillment.
When the USSR ceased its existence, the Ministry of Culture started to insist that the Roerichs Foundation in the USSR had nothing to do with the ICR in contemporary Russia. My position in this respect follows from personal conversations with Roerich. All the people that worked in the Soviet Roerich Foundation now work in the ICR, and it is absolutely obvious that Roerich trusted them and was oriented at them.
That is, there was no question of succession for Roerich. For him, it was the same organization. And if you look at the Museum state today, the expositions, it will become quite clear that their attitude towards their business is absolutely serious. They find sponsors, support, Roerich did not make any mistake here: if the Museum were a state museum, there would have been no possibilities like that.
And the problems with the building grow from the same root. The Centre of the Roerichs wants that the collection become public, and it would not stop fighting. And since the Centre’s opponent is the Ministry of Culture represented by different persons, it is trying to influence the process by hook or by crook.
I was not the most active participant of those events. But I saw in what state the Lopukhins’ estate was transferred to the ICR and I know very well in what perfect state it is now. So I believe that it is just shameful to raise questions of this organization dispossession of the wonderful monument of culture which it restored literally from ruins. Great part of this achievement belongs to Shaposhnikova, Vorontsov, and their sponsors.
There is bureaucratic succession which forces an officer taking the office to adhere against his own will to the position of the former administration of the department. And it is often important to find the root of the problem to change one’s position. And certain courage is required as well.
If a man is not convinced that he is right, he will not pile on the pressure. I hope very much that the new Minister of Culture will be able to estimate the situation with Roerich’s legacy. I highly appreciate his work as the Ambassador of Russia in France. He did very much for the development of cultural relations with France, he understands the subject.
I have never heard that any officer who has violated the rights of any public organization or any citizen would be punished. Without feeling responsibility for their acts, they use the power of the system, the state, and a conflict situation arises.
The most violent struggle against Roerich’s last will was conducted by Shvydkoi. Probably, he wanted to take advantage of this legacy, probably, he liked it.
None of our museums of art with world reputation (the Hermitage, the Pushkin Museum, the Tretiakov Gallery) claimed for the Roerichs’ paintings. And only the Museum of Oriental Art started the struggle with Roerich for his paintings. They kept the paintings from the end of the 70s and they believed that this storage can and must become permanent. But there is storage and storage.
P.S. The Roerichs’ legacy case is still waiting for a real trial. The International Centre of the Roerichs has hoped for many years that the Prosecutor’s Office will finally pay attention to all these machinations with the priceless for the Russian people cultural legacy. Many questions to the law enforcement agencies have been accumulated. For example, why nobody has ever checked correspondence of the present collection in the SMOA to its initial composition. Can it be that the law enforcement authorities are not interested to know where the Roerichs’ paintings worth many millions of dollars disappeared? Why nobody but journalists studied the fraud of thief Mary Poonacha with her fake fax to Yeltsin from Roerich’s widow? Why nobody requested documents confirming the Oriental Museum’s right to the legacy? Why, finally, this state museum representatives are so violently trying to tread to pieces a public, people’s museum? Maybe, the reason is that it is always easier to fish one’s millions in troubled waters?