The legal notion of heritage does not include intangible heritage; its normative basis still includes several articles of the Soviet Law on Preservation and Use of Monuments of History and Culture (1978). It is established by the following laws:
- Law on Export and Import of Objects of Cultural Value (1993);
- Law on the Museum Collection of the Russian Federation and on Museums in the Russian Federation (1996);
- Law on Cultural Values Displaced to the USSR as a Result of the Second World War and Remaining on the Territory of the Russian Federation (1998);
- Law on Objects of Cultural Heritage (On Monuments of History and Culture) of the Peoples of the Russian Federation (2002); and
- Law on Archive Affairs in the Russian Federation (2004).
The State Code of Particularly Valuable Objects of Cultural Heritage of the Peoples of the Russian Federation lists the first priority heritage objects. It includes museums, libraries, archives, theatres, higher school institutions, etc. in order toprotect them from financial cuts and privatisation. The Law on Displaced Cultural Objects (1998) is used as a basis for laws on particular restitutions, e.g. of the books of the Sárospatak Calvinist College (2006), and of the Marienkirche stained glass to Germany. There are additional acts that regulate licensing, restoration, the antiquarian trade and other matters of heritage aimed at preservation and recording.
The Law of 2002 on Culture Monuments treats immovable objects and pertinent paintings, sculptures, decorative arts objects, etc. as a heritage unit and determines related responsibilities of the state and local authorities, funding, preservation, use and protection of heritage items. It also regulates state registration rules, the status of different types of heritage including reserves and historical settlements, and terms of the leasing agreements. Article 48 establishes the rules of owning, using, and disposing of heritage units that can be a federal, municipal, private property or a property of the Region or another type of property.
The Law includes special clauses for privatising or for the already privatised objects of cultural heritage, together with the related rights and responsibilities of the proprietors. Its clauses on privatisation were suspended until 1 January 2008 as the secondary legislation needed for a planned transition to other types of property was not developed yet. The Law was praised for its content, but was ineffective until 2006, because of the gaps in related secondary legislation. It gave impetus to active discussions and even fears among the heritage workers’ community, which is not keen to privatise heritage.
In 2010, the issue of owing heritage objects was put at the core of public discussions related to adoption of the Law on Transfer of Property of Religious Intent Owned by the State or Municipality to Religious Organisations. The experts doubt the preparedness of religious organisation representatives to properly maintain such objects and to fulfil the constitutional cultural right of public access to cultural heritage (see also chapter 3.1).
In October 2004, land legislation was improved in order to give churches and monasteries a possibility to privatise their land or to use it without any charge. In 2006, mandatory “open lists” were introduced for all those practising archaeological excavations and punishment for non-submission of discovered archaeological items to the Museum Collection of the Russian Federation.