The Staszic Institute: Polish Government’s purchase of the Czartoryski collection was not a mistake. Criticism of the purchase has a negative impact on Poland's international reputation.

2018-06-06  |  06:00

Criticising the Government's purchase of works of art from the Princes Czartoryski Foundation is not favourable for Poland’s international reputation, experts of the Staszic Institute emphasised. The dispute over the legitimacy of the transaction reignited when it turned out that the money went to the bank account of a newly established foundation in Liechtenstein, and that the family conflict in the aristocratic family will find its way to court. According to the experts of the Staszic Institute, the purchase was necessary and the price was very reasonable, whereas the issue of what the seller does with the money from the transaction is not anybody else's concern.

“In the Institute's opinion, the purchase of the collection by Poland for a fraction of its value was a good decision and no mistakes on the part of the Government should be suspected,” argued dr Dawid Piekarz, a Staszic Institute expert, in an interview with the Newseria Biznes agency. “First of all, only the purchase of the collection for the State could guarantee that it would not be sold entirely or partly, or taken out of the country, as the owners are entitled to do with their property whatever they wish.”

In December 2016, after several months of negotiations, the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage and the Princes Czartoryski Foundation, the Polish State purchased from the foundation a collection of historic objects which are priceless for the Polish culture, including the most valuable painting held by Poland – Lady with an Ermine by Leonardo da Vinci. The collection also includes a painting by Rembrandt, a print by Dürer, manuscripts of Długosz's chronicles and many other valuable old prints, manuscripts, historical documents, as well as weapons, jewellery, books and old coins. Poland paid EUR 100 m for the collection. The decision was criticised by many, who claimed that there was no need to pay anything for the collection, as the collection may not be taken out of Poland or permanently closed from public viewing.

“Another problem is that the collection was maintained with the use of private funds, which were often insufficient. If the State was not the owner of the collection, it could not provide funds for the maintenance of these treasures of the Polish culture,” Dawid Piekarz argued. “All these objects must be properly secured, conserved and protected against physical damage, which would be impossible if the State did not own the collection.”

He also added that Polish law permits taking over priceless cultural goods in the event of a threat of physical damage to them, but in such a case the State would need to pay damages corresponding to the market value of the collection, which is several dozen times higher than the amount paid in December 2016.

On the other hand, the suggested nationalisation of the collection would be a violation of ownership right and would provide grounds for questioning Poland's claims to looted works of art.

“The opinions that Poland did not really need to buy the collection but instead take it away from the owners in one way or the other definitely do not work towards Poland's advantage, especially in a situation when Poland is, on the one hand, criticised for its failure to deal with the matter of reprivatisation and, on the other, in many influential circles, e.g. in the USA, it is believed that absolute respect for private property is one of the foundations of a democratic state of law, Dawid Piekarz emphasised. “Poland cannot be perceived internationally as a country which does not respect private property and nationalises or takes away property from its owners.”

According to the Staszic Institute, the accusations related to transferring most of the amount obtained from the purchase to the account of the newly established Le Jour Viendra Foundation in Liechtenstein are also unfounded.

“The argument that the money was moved out of Poland is completely unjustified, because the same can be said about purchasing the F-16 or Dreamliners. In that case the owner also sold specific goods to the Polish state, for which it received the agreed price, and had the right to dispose of the money as it wished because it was a regular market transaction,” emphasised the expert from the Staszic Institute. “In our view, the purchase was handled in a civilised way, with respect for the owners’ interests and the law, including international law.”

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