Merkel tells Putin Germany wants looted art returned

Fri Jun 21, 2013 4:15pm EDT
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By Andreas Rinke

ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - Chancellor Angela Merkel told President Vladimir Putin on Friday that German art seized by the Soviets in the wake of World War Two should be repatriated to Germany, a claim the Russian leader swiftly rejected.

The tense exchange took place as they opened an exhibition at the Hermitage museum in St Petersburg during a trip by Merkel to Russia. The exhibition about the Bronze Age includes 600 items carried off by the Soviet Union as war reparations, according to the German government.

Merkel said it was an important step that the works were now going on public display for the first time.

"It's our opinion that these exhibition pieces should be returned to Germany," she said.

Putin replied that it was time to stop making repatriation claims against each other, otherwise Turkey could also demand the return of art from Germany. He said it didn't matter to the average citizen if art is displayed in Berlin, St Petersburg, Moscow or in Turkey.

According to Berlin's Humboldt University, the Soviets plundered more than a million books and thousands of works of art at the end of the war.

Many pieces have still not been traced and it remains a touchy issue in both countries.

The Hermitage museum exhibition, "The Bronze Age of Europe: Europe Without Borders", opens to the public on Saturday, the anniversary of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union.   Continued...

Russia's President Vladimir Putin (front R) and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel (front L) visit the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, June 21, 2013. REUTERS/Anatoly Maltsev/Pool