We have recently received messages and links from friends indicating that there have been new voices in the debate over the perennial issues of restitution and that some of the new views and arguments deserve our attention. We looked at some of these new contributions and would like to state briefly our views and impressions.
We must state from the outset that we found no really new elements in the argumentation supporting refusal of restitution except that those coming new to these issues seem to think that nothing had been done or said before them. They seem to think that what appears new to them is in fact new. They may not be aware that for the last two decades there have been intensive discussions involving the high priests of the ‘universal museum’, James Cuno, Neil MacGregor and Philippe de Montebello; this trio of valiant defenders of Western museums and their illegal detention of looted cultural artefacts from Africa, Asia, the Americas and Oceania, have dug out every possible argument to defend the withholding of the artefacts of those who have been subjugated by Western imperialism in its quest for world hegemony.
We shall not examine all the arguments presented recently since they generally repeat standard arguments in the imperialist arsenal. We will deal with only a few that must astonish all who have followed this debate in the last two decades.
The first and really disturbing argument is that the deprived nations have not asked for the return of the artefacts. This appears to be a favourite argument of Westerners. We have dealt with this in several articles and refer the reader to the internet sites of afrikanet.info, modernghana.com, museum security network.org. elginism.com We have had to write an article entitled How often does Nigeria have to ask for artefacts to be returned? Whilst a Nigerian minister was in Berlin to plead for the return of the Benin artefacts and other looted Nigerian objects, some were saying Nigeria had not asked for restitution. That the Oba of Benin sent in 2000 his brother to plead before the British Parliament for the return of the Benin objects, is merrily ignored by many even though the parliamentary records, Hansard, speak of the plea which is gone in history as APPENDIX 21 – publications.parliament.uk Representatives of the Ethnology Museum ,Berlin, and the Humboldt Forum boldly informed the Berlin Senate that in their meetings with Nigerian officials from the Commission on Museums and Monuments there was no question about restitution of the Benin artefacts. It makes you then wonder why they so often meet Nigerian officials and why the so-called Benin Dialogue Group exists at all and why the first document of this group bore the title. Benin plan of action for restitution
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