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Art from former colonies: Return or keep?

To be returned art from the colonial period to the countries of origin? The French President, Emmanuel Macron, announced this for France two years ago. Today, the German Minister of culture meet, for the first time, to find a Position of their own.

It was like a big state reception at the end of February in Gibeon in Namibia, as the whip and the Bible of the Namibian national hero, Hendrik Witbooi of a Delegation from the Baden-Württemberg state President Hage Geingob. Since 1902, the Witbooi-level whip, and the Bible in the Linden-Museum in Stuttgart. The personal belongings of the African heroes who stood up against the colonial power, had captured the German more than 100 years ago at the battle of horn wreath.

The RAID as a massacre of horn wreath is known as the German colonial masters, killing 70 women and children. The return of a few days ago was an important step in reconciliation between former colonial power and of the oppressed.

by February, the whip of Witbooi was in the Stuttgart Linden-Museum. Then she was given solemnly in the country.

France as a pioneer

examples of this magnitude are rather rare. France will now demonstrate and has created the basis to tens of thousands of art assets to the former Colonial powers to return. In November of 2017 President Emmanuel Macron held state in a programmatic speech in Burkina Faso, in which he described colonialism as a "crime," and announced, to lay the foundations for a "Restitution".

a year later, a Commission to put forward concrete proposals. Approximately 90,000 objects, from French collections, which date from the colonial States, could be returned to the countries of origin, if they request this. The burden of proof should be reversed - in case of dispute, the Museum would have to, and not the country of origin prove that the cultural property was legitimately purchased and not stolen.

Also, the Netherlands have recently created a common set of principles for the return of cultural goods. All of this puts Germany under pressure.

Two camps in Germany

so Far, the Minister of culture of the Federation and the Länder are apart in their positions. For the a all art treasures from the colonial period to is wrong, or even violent and had to be returned. For the other hand, it must be proved separately in each case the origin, and the injustice with which they were captured.

this is Precisely the attitude it had in the past, the collections are easy to defend any claim. Especially since there are no legal bases, such as Hannes Hartung, a regular lecturer for the protection of cultural property law at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich, criticized.

In international law, restitution claims is not readily, but what good is it, if the basis for a suit missing? "To date, a return dependent on the well-being of the owner-States want," says Hartung. What is lacking is a clear commitment to historical responsibility. Hartung calls for a common legally binding and reliable legal framework of all the former European colonial powers to deal fairly with claims for Restitution from the former colonies.

During his visit to Burkina Faso President Macron launched a broad debate on the art of colonial States.

collections open

However, the Director of the Museum fear in the future, empty exhibition halls? Nanette Snoep, since the beginning of January the new head of the Cologne Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum, know very well that you need not be afraid of this: "Only about five percent of the collections are exhibited in the museums." The Rest snooze in the Depots. The Ethnographer from the Netherlands, has even accompanied some returning to Africa, as they previously managed the national Ethnographic collection in Saxony and for the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris was, in the majority of the African art objects in France.

you know that many museums lack the funds to demand refunds or even later. What is lacking in the African museums and collections, says Snoep, especially free access to information. The gaps in knowledge about the whereabouts of their cultural assets are huge. Even if Germany would make its collections available digitally, would these countries a Chance to write your own story. This is exactly why the Minister of culture would have to provide funds, calls for the Museum Director: "We need to open our doors." And then, the museums could benefit from the cultural exchange.

debate about museums: What is art to do with colonial robbery?, 14.01.2019 |video Namibia: tens of thousands of victims are forgotten, 29.08.2018 |video Atlas |Germany |Berlin

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