THE DISCOVERY of Tito’s watch, which disappeared ten years ago at an auction in Hong Kong, raised the question of exactly how many valuable works have disappeared from our museums, how to find them and preserve the heritage better. Insiders say that coins, numismatics used to be stolen the most, and today gold.
One of the biggest thefts in our country happened in 2019. 41 objects, all gold, disappeared from the Museum of Applied Arts, and only one was found. Gold also shone recently at an auction in Hong Kong. It will turn out to be the same one that the Museum of Yugoslavia was left without more than a decade ago.
Assistant Minister for the Protection of Cultural Heritage and Digitalization Danijela Vanusic says that it is very important that the protection institution immediately reports to the police when a work of art is stolen.
– The police then initiate criminal charges against unidentified persons and obtain from the protection institution all data related to that act. Thus, when this watch disappeared in 2005, the Museum of the History of Yugoslavia provided all the information on this case, its appearance and origin and ownership, and this information was eventually entered into the Interpol database. So, when he appeared at the auction in Hong Kong, they could immediately locate that this work was stolen, but also that it originated from Serbia – Vanusic explains.
When stealing cultural goods, there are usually not enough elements that indicate organized crime. If there are, as in the case of the recently found painting by Vlaho Bukovac, then they are the responsibility of the Department for the Suppression of Smuggling of Cultural Heritage.
– There is a big gap between the perpetrators of the act of theft from those who deal with sales. The sale is mainly done by people who understand works of art, understand the way the work should be modified and presented, they are mostly contacted and through them items are sold mainly outside the territory of the Republic of Serbia – said the head of the Department for Suppression of Smuggling of Cultural Heritage. in the Ministry of the Interior Dejan Burmaz.
How to recognize a stolen work
Finding a stolen work of art is only the first step in establishing its authenticity.
– Cultural goods according to the Law on Cultural Goods are documented in the appropriate registers. Even these registers do not contain enough elements to recognize when the police find them, because they are based on its cultural and historical features, values, etc., and less on those details that are important to us, such as weight and dimensions – says Burmaz.
And in order to prevent theft, the most important thing is a good security system. The Matica Srpska Gallery has one of the best.
– This means that we have a system of video cameras and video surveillance and motion detection, fire, burglary and what is perhaps the latest and most interesting – is the image scrolling system where the image is actually alarmed by the system that triggers the security system – explains the manager Matica Srpska Galleries Tijana Palkovljević Bugarski.
Systematization of stolen works in progress
A year ago, the Ministry of Culture sent a letter to museums and galleries to provide them with information about all stolen works of art.
– We wanted the museums to extract from their archives all available documentation on some cases that happened earlier and which have not been resolved, so we got extensive documentation, diverse, and we are now working on arranging and systematizing it together with the prosecution and with the police, we will, in fact, when we systematize that data, complete today’s databases – says the assistant minister of culture for the protection of cultural heritage and digitalization.
Data are still being collected, so it is not known exactly how many cultural goods have disappeared, nor their value.
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