MOSCOW. Feb 8 (Interfax) – The Russian Foreign Ministry has recommended that the Culture Ministry and the Russian State Library go to court to claim a fine imposed on the U.S. Library of Congress for holding seven books lent to it in 1994 from the so-called Schneerson Library, i.e. a collection of tens of thousands of old Judaic books and documents, Kommersant reported on Friday.
“The algorithm will be roughly this: the Russian State Library, to which the books belong, will file a lawsuit with a court on Russian territory to make the users return the literature and pay a fine. If a court grants the suit and the borrowers fail to return the books and pay the penalties, Russia may demand seizing U.S. government property not protected by immunity as an enforcement measure,” the newspaper says.
Thus, Russia’s response will be virtually symmetrical to the U.S. steps. A Washington-based court earlier imposed a fine of $50,000 a day on Russia for refusing to transfer the Schneerson collection to Agudas Chasidei Chabad, a New York-based Hasidic organization, Kommersant said.
Moreover, the size of the fine claimed by Russia may eventually be larger than the U.S. one, it said.
Russian State Library Deputy Director Alexander Samarin explained to Kommersant that seven books from the Schneerson collection were passed temporarily to the Library of Congress in 1994 through the international interlibrary exchange system.
Having received the books from Moscow, the Library of Congress passed it to the Agudas Chasidei Chabad library. The United States later asked Russia to extend the lending period, and the Russian State Library issued extension permissions at the Culture Ministry’s sanction in 1995 and 1996.
“In 2000, members of the Hasidic community proposed to us through the U.S. Embassy in Russia that these books be exchanged for others and sent us the list of books for replacement, but we could not agree to this. This would not have been quite appropriate, and besides, the books offered were of lower value,” he said.
“Responsibility for the failure to return the books from the Schneerson collection rests with the Library of Congress,” as the books were formally lent to it, and the Russian State Library has the documents confirming this, Samarin said.
In the meantime, the United States hopes the conflict will somehow be settled. Joseph Kruzich, the press attache of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, told Kommersant that, in explaining its official position on the Hasidic movement’s suit to the court, the U.S. government said it did not consider sanctions against a foreign state appropriate in this particular instance and therefore disagreed with the court’s ruling.
Kruzich said, however, that the U.S. authorities have long supported Chabad’s right to own the Schneerson collection. Nevertheless, he went on to say, Department of State officials said both orally and in writing that they believed the imposition of a fine on Russia was not an example of appropriate application of the U.S. Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.
Speaking at a press conference summing up 2012 outcomes, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called the U.S. court’s ruling concerning the Schneerson Library outrageous and said it would not be left unanswered.
A U.S. district court in Washington ruled on January 16, 2013, to oblige Russia to pay $50,000 a day as a fine until the Schneerson collection is returned to Chabad-Lubavitch based on a 2010 court order. The judge issued this ruling even despite the fact that the U.S. Justice Department urged him “not to issue the civil contempt fines. The department argued that fines won’t help resolve the dispute, would be counterproductive, and would hurt U.S. foreign policy interests,” the Wall Street Journal reported.