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BosNewsLife (02/26/06) – Priceless Christian books seized from Hungary by Russian troops as a Second World War trophy, were in the country Sunday, February 26, after Moscow returned them.

On Wednesday, March 1, visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin was to inaugurate the exhibition of the 136 mostly Protestant theological works, some dating back to the 15th century, which are considered as a “national treasury” here.

The rare book collection belongs to the Reformed Church’s ‘Sarospatak Calvinist College Library’ in northeastern Hungary , about 250 kilometers (156 miles) from Budapest . However the books will first be displayed at the National Museum in the Hungarian capital before being returned to Sarospatak later this year.

Putin’s gesture to open the exhibit also marks the first time that Russia returned war trophies on this scale, experts say.

ART TROPHY

” Russia has never before returned such World War II ‘trophy’ art to a European country,” said Gyula Szvak, chair of the Russian studies department of Lorand Eotvos University in Budapest , in published remarks. “This is without precedent and raises hope that this could open the way for the return of other artifacts to Hungary and other European countries,” Szvak added.

Russia ‘s upper house of parliament in January approved their restitution after the lower house recognized the legitimacy of Hungary ‘s claim to the books.

The return also coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian 1956 Revolution against Soviet domination, which was crushed by Russian forces. It ends years of tensions over the issue between Hungary and Russia , at a time when both countries seek closer trade relations.

SYMBOLIC STEP

But critics have suggested that the return of the books is a mere symbolic step, as thousands of Hungarian artifacts taken at the end of World War Two are believed to be still in Russia .

In addition Christian books may have been destroyed either on purpose, “or because of the poor conditions in which they were held,” said journalist Agnes R. Bos, who reports from Budapest for the Russian services of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Radio France International (RFI) and BosNewsLife News Agency.

“Many books may also have been stolen,” added Bos, who is also an arts expert. She added that Christianity and other religions were not welcomed by previous Communist regimes in Hungary and what was the Soviet Union .