The “Barbarian Crime Against Humanity”

Museums

Next month, OlgaDogaru, and her son, Radu, are on trial in Romania for what , Ernest Oberlander-Tarnoveanu, described as a “barbarian crime against humanity.” Olga’s 29-year-old son admitted to stealing seven pieces of artwork from the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam back in October. Olga, in an effort to protect her son, told investigators that she burned the paintings in her stove.

Why the public outcry and heated reactions? The paintings and drawings were constructed and signed by Picasso, Matisse, Monet, Gaugin, Lucian Freud and Meyer de Haan. They are said to be worth tens of millions of dollars. Radu was arrested in Romania in January and his mother thought that telling investigators about her destruction of the evidence would protect her son. However, at a hearing conducted last week, Olga denied having incinerated the artwork.

The hearing was scheduled for the purpose of  reviewing a request made by Olga’s attorney, Radu Catalin Dancu, to release Olga and her son from custody pending the start of their trial. Since the hearing, the whereabouts of the paintings have become a mystery. Olga explained that she concocted the story about burning the artwork because “I believed that what I said before was the best thing at the moment, that this was the right thing to do.” Olga’s most recent claim contradicts findings by the National History Museum in Bucharest, that that forensic scientists had found ash material consistent with burnt paintings. Olga’s attorney challenged the findings and insisting that he see a final report issued by the forensic scientists.

The most serious charge was brought against Olga as a result of her earlier claim to have destroyed the artwork.  “Under Romanian law, the crime of ‘destruction with very serious consequences,’ one of three charges against Mrs. Dogaru, carries a sentence of 3 to 10 years — far longer than the punishment for her two other alleged crimes, ‘supporting a criminal group’ and ‘assisting criminals.’ “ The New York Times. Evidence suggesting that the paintings were in fact preserved may save Olga from having to serve extended jail time.

For more information, please see The New York Times.

4 comments

  1. While I do not agree that this alleged conduct amounts to a ‘barbarian crime against humanity,’ I can understand the public outcry. This man stole priceless artwork from a museum and deserves to be punished. As for his mother, whether she burned the paintings or not, she must be liable to some extent for her role as an accomplice in this ordeal. Ideally she did not burn the paintings, but if she did, jail time seems reasonable. Even if she never destroyed the artwork, she lied to authorities to try and protect her criminal son, which in itself should warrant some kind of criminal implications. Having stated that destroying artwork does not amount to ‘barbaric,’ 3-10 does not seem inappropriate if it is determined that she did in fact burn the art. She would have burned millions of dollars worth of irreplaceable property that did not belong to her. Serving a few years in prison seems lenient.

  2. I agree with Patrick. This crime is one of theft and vandalism – I’m not sure it should be elevated to something like “barbarian crime against humanity.” That’s too vague and having a statute like that leaves open the possibility for abuse. That’s why we have a legal code. So that laws and punishments can’t just be dolled out willy nilly with such broad definitions as “crime against humanity”.

  3. I agree with Pat that this “alleged” conduct does not amount to a “barbarian crime against humanity”. Under the Rome Statute, which Romania is a signatory of, a crime against humanity is defined as one that constitutes “a serious attack on human dignity or grave humiliation or a degradation of human beings.” This is clearly not what happened here. Olga Dogaru’s actions and those of her son should not be down played at all. But, they are being incorrectly labeled, and therefore setting a dangerous precedent for future crimes. If she destroyed the evidence, she should be punished. I do, however, think 3-10 years is a little harsh. She was trying to protect her son, who is the real wrongdoer here.

  4. I agree with the points made above in that the alleged actions should not amount to a “barbarian crime against humanity.” Like Patrice, Tara, and Alexandra said, the public outcry is completely justified as the artwork that was stolen came from the likes of famous artists such as Picasso, Matisse, and Monet. However, I do not believe that the specific conduct at issue here should be viewed as a crime against humanity. Although Olga’s actions should not be labeled as such, clearly she should face some jail time regardless of whether she burned the paintings or not. If the paintings were burned, then an elevated sentence would be reasonable in my opinion. Finally, like the prior comments mentioned, she should at the very least be charged as an accomplice for trying to cover up the actions of her son. Time will tell whether the paintings were actually destroyed, but until then it will be interesting to see how this whole scenario plays out.

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