Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 14.09.2017
In classical Greek and Roman times the Scythians lived north of the Black Sea in southern Ukraine. The Scythians faded from history by the 1st century B.C.. In normal times they would be of interest to scholars of ancient civilizations and to visitors to museums. But these are not normal times. Since Russia invaded southern Ukraine, starting in February 2014, the Scythians have become an instrument of agitation propaganda for the Putin regime, which is determined to gain recognition for its occupation of Crimea. Russia has targeted the Netherlands and Britain over exhibitions of Scythian treasures. The very insecure Muscovites want the world to associate the Scythians with Siberia and not Crimea, and they want the world to associate Crimea with Russia and not Ukraine. This mania is part of the dark spirit that imbues Muscovy imperialism and Putin’s war against Europeans in southern and eastern Ukraine.
When Putin’s army invaded Ukraine in Crimea and Donbas the Russians looted all the art treasures and historical treasures and archaeological treasures they could find. The Horlivka Art Museum of the Donbas was moved to Russia. The Aivazovsky National Art Gallery in Feodosia, Crimea, Ukraine fell to the invaders. Russian archaeologists, breaking with international standards of their profession, are excavating at a furious pace in Crimea and shipping anything of value out to Moscow or Saint Petersburg. Scythian treasures from antiquity that were already in museums were seized by the Russians – but by a stroke of good luck not a significant collection that was on exhibition in the Netherlands at the time Russia invaded Ukraine. The Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam had a trove of Scythian treasures that was on loan from several Ukrainian museums located in Crimea. The Dutch courts have ruled these Scythian treasures should be returned to Ukraine, as only sovereign states have ultimate authority over cultural artifacts. Russia is appealing, and in the meantime the artifacts are out of their hands, safe in the Netherlands. The Russians couldn’t get the Dutch to agree that Scythian gold belongs to them, so they turned their sights on the British.
I wrote in December 2014 that with Scythian gold treasure being in a state of limbo in the Netherlands (but with Russia aiming to steal it) the British Museum should put a stop to any co-operation with the Hermitage Museum or with the Putin regime. The British Museum blundered ahead, and are letting the Russians call all the shots on an agitation propaganda effort, opening this month as an exhibition called “Scythians: Warriors of ancient Siberia.”
The British Museum lent one of the Elgin Marbles to the Hermitage Museum in December 2014-January 2015. It would not have done so without a deal from the Russians that they would send the statue back to London, and not hand it over to Greece. Scythian treasures from Crimea belong to Ukraine but are in the possession of the Hermitage Museum. The Hermitage Museum should return them to Ukraine but will not. The British Museum should return Ukrainian artifacts to Ukraine when they have them in their possession, but almost certainly it will not.
“Scythians: Warriors of ancient Siberia” is sponsored by BP, which has a long history of losing vast amounts of shareholder equity through the disastrous ventures of its executives in – wait for it – Russia’s Siberia region and Far North.
This exhibition contains artifacts stolen from Ukraine. It is cultural appropriation and historical piracy by Russia, abetted by a museum and multi-national corporation from the United Kingdom. Artifacts of unsound provenance will be exhibited as from the “Black Sea region” and not as from Crimea, Ukraine. An origin story about Siberia will be pushed at the expense of a height-of-civilization story about Crimea. Muscovy steals Ukraine’s ancient history as the heartland of Scythia in the same way it steals Ukraine’s Middle Ages history as the epicentre of mighty Kyivan Rus’. Why the Muscovites feel the need to deny their own true past – which is a story worth telling – and claim the life of other people from other places is a matter for psychologists and sociologists to discover.
Russo-centric to the bitter end, the British Museum and BP are accomplices to theft. They are hosting and paying for a Russian war effort of agitation propaganda. The aim of that effort is to destroy the living reality that Crimea is Ukraine by presenting a twisted fantasy that the ancient history of that place is rooted in Russia. The Moscow regime attacks Ukrainians because it hates and fears them. The British Museum and BP should be asked why they’re on Moscow’s side.