Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Cultural Property Repatriation Issues

In Jason Felch's analysis of Hugh Eakin's text about repatriation is one passage which seems worth pulling out from the general discussion:
Other archaeologically rich nations have been inspired by Italy’s success. In bringing their own claims, many have been less disciplined than Italy, which supported its demands with evidence — much of it photographic — gathered during a decade-long criminal investigation. But here Eakin misses an opportunity to articulate the key flaw of some recent repatriation requests — the conflation of historical gripes with the modern criminal behavior of looting, smuggling and fencing. For example, most of the objects Turkey is demanding from American museums were acquired since the 1960s and have no documented ownership history before that, suggesting they are likely the product of illicit excavations. Whether Turkey has evidence to support those claims remains to be seen — unlike Italy, the Turks are making their case to museums before sharing it with the public. But Turkey has also asked several European museums to return objects that were removed nearly a century ago, sometimes by archaeologists operating with government permission. And to increase their leverage, Turkey has denied digging permits to foreign archaeologists who played no role in the alleged wrongdoing. All of this — coupled with Turkey’s own history of plunder — has led to a skeptical reception of claims against American museums that may or may not be backed by clear evidence. And with good reason. Likewise, Greece and Egypt have frequently included colonial-era claims with requests for the return of recently looted antiquities. Some of those historical claims may carry ethical weight, such as the reunification of the Parthenon marbles. But more often they blur the moral and legal clarity of claims involving modern looting
I think this is an important point, and it seems to me that the lobbyists are doing this deliberately, to fog the issue.  This is why I discuss these issues more frequently in another blog altogether (Cultural Property Repatriation News and Issues). Personally, I see no reason to dismiss the claims of pre-1970 objects. These are issues to be discussed and compromises reached. Here another quote seems crucial:

What motivates repatriation claims from source countries is not a desire for a few more pieces of ancient art. The basements of their museums overflow with the stuff. What they want is respect.
Are they getting that from our museums and scholars? 

Source: 'Decoding Eakin: Behind ‘Extortion’ Claim, Fear the Floodgates Have Opened', January 29 2013.


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