Dozens of books worth a million euros stolen from Eastern European libraries to be auctioned in Russia

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Dozens of books worth a million euros stolen from Eastern European libraries to be auctioned in Russia

A series of thefts of Russian classical works worth nearly two million euros from Eastern European libraries has targeted them for auction in Moscow. In the last two years, the shelves of Russian literature of the 19th century. In all these cases the original works were replaced by fakes.

The Warsaw University Library was aware of the thefts last month, which included first edition of the works of Alexander Pushkin and Nikolai Gogol. According to a university employee, the value of the books stolen in Warsaw was “about one million euros.”

“It’s like the crown jewels that have been stolen,” Hieronim Grala, a former diplomat, expert on Russian politics and professor at the University of Warsaw, who helped assess the damage, told AFP.

Libraries in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania

Important libraries in the three Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) also suffered from thefts and in all cases it was Russian literature from the 19th century.

According to experts, the path leads to Moscow, where works similar to the stolen pieces are sold at auction. The first known case occurred in April 2022 at the National Library of Latvia, where three works were lost. A Georgian was found guilty of the robbery and was sentenced to six months in prison, but his partner remained free.

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That same month, two men who claimed to study censorship and publishing policy in early 19th-century Russia showed up at the university library in the Estonian city of Tartu and asked to works of Pushkin and Gogol, almost 200 years old.

Just four months later, the library realized they had left behind eight convincing-looking copies, and not the real books. whose total value is estimated at 158,000 euros ($170,000).

In May, the Vilnius University Library in Lithuania discovered that they had also disappeared 17 of his most valuable Russian books.

«Most of the stolen books They were replaced by non-original copies» Gintare Vitkauskaite-Satkauskiene, spokeswoman for the Lithuanian prosecutor’s office, told AFP. According to Lithuanian investigators, the stolen books are worth about 440,000 euros ($480,000).

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The University of Warsaw has already recognized 79 missing books which means that it suffered the most significant losses in four countries.

“Here, the thieves acted on an industrial scale,” an employee of the Warsaw University library told AFP on condition of anonymity. While the books are still in the catalog, the original was sold in Moscow.

“There is a note dated December 22, 2022 where it says the books are in place,” Grala explained to AFP. «That day, at an auction in Moscow one of these books was sold for 30,500 euros» ($33,000), he added.

Sources close to the Warsaw library investigation showed AFP screenshots of auctions held by Russian auction house Litfond with books with stamps and catalog numbers of the University of Warsaw.

“It is clear to me that the whole action was organized centrally from Russia,” Grala declared to AFP. AFP contacted Litfond, but its general director, Sergei Burmistrov, neither explicitly denied nor confirmed any irregularities.

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“The Litfond auction house works within the framework of the current legislation of the Russian Federation, and we do not accept to sell or sell any books with stamps from existing state libraries,” said Burmistrov. For Grala, There is a clear link connecting the robberies in Poland and the Baltic countries to Russia.

«The first three blows affected the countries where the Russians accused of fighting against the Russian language and culture», he explained to AFP. Relations between Poland and Russia have long been tense, with Warsaw critical of the Kremlin and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Grala said he was “devastated” by the “irreparable” loss of Russian books that survived two national uprisings and two world wars on Polish soil.

“Los librarians at the University of Warsaw” Risking their lives during the war, they secretly built a double roof and hid the books so they wouldn’t be lost or burned,” he said. “But we can’t protect them from theft,” he said resignedly.