The Russian-Serbian mutual return of cultural values has been postponed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, Russian president’s aide Vladimir Medinsky said during his visit to Belgrade on Tuesday.
"An intergovernmental agreement was signed in October last year, according to which a page of the Miroslav Gospel will be returned to Serbia in exchange for seven paintings by Nicholas Roerich. If it wasn’t for quarantine, this would have happened long ago. The work in this domain is an illustration to the fact that everything can be agreed upon if there is a will. It would be incorrect to refer to it as an exchange, it is a sign of friendship made by both sides," Medinsky said.
The Russian president’s aide said it was vital for Serbia to restore the integrity of its most important manuscript.
On July 13, Putin signed the law to ratify the agreement with Serbia to exchange Miroslav Gospel page 166 for seven paintings by Nicholas Roerich.
The agreement to exchange these treasures was reached by Belgrade and Moscow during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to the Serbian capital on January 17. The agreement itself to hand a page of the medieval Cyrillic manuscript back to Belgrade was inked during Russian then Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s Belgrade visit in October. The document also states that Serbia will hand over seven early Roerich paintings to Russia, TASS reports.
The issue of returning the page from the ancient Cyrillic manuscript to Belgrade had been discussed for decades. As for Roerich’s paintings, they simply vanished between 1941 and March 2017, when a TASS correspondent discovered the masterpieces in Serbia’s National Museum.
Miroslav Gospel was written in approximately 1180. It is Serbia’s oldest manuscript written in Cyrillic, which is housed at the National Museum of Serbia in Belgrade. In 2005, Miroslav Gospel was added to the UNESCO Memory of the World list. Lately, a new tradition emerged when Serbian presidents swear on the gospel’s copy to take the oath of the office when inaugurated.
Written by deacon Gregory, the manuscript was commissioned by Prince Miroslav Zavidovic, a brother of Stefan Nemanja, the founder of the Nemanjic dynasty. Later, the Gospel was named after Prince Miroslav. In about 1845, Archimandrite Porphyrius (Uspensky) discovered the manuscript at the Hilandar Monastery on Mount Athos. He extracted one page from it and brought it to Russia.
The fate of the paintings by Nicholas Roerich in question, discovered in the collection of the National Museum of Serbia, remained unknown since the moment Nazi Germany attacked Yugoslavia in April 1941. The seven paintings on the list are Berendej Village (1921), Holy Guests (1923), Church Bells Tolling (1919), Burgustan on Caucasus, St. Sergius of Radonezh (1922), and two costume sketches for Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera Snow Maiden (1921). One of the paintings on the list was reportedly Roerich’s gift to the Belgrade Museum. The others had been brought there for a personal exhibition. World War II prevented the exhibits’ return to Russia.