Colonialism dies hard

Restitution of stolen artifacts is a hot topic these days and many museums have heeded the call by doing the right thing and returning antiquities acquired under doubtful circumstances to their rightful country of origin. German cultural institutions seem to be leading the way but one notable exception and holdout to restitution is the British Museum who insists they have more merit in retaining these pieces than the countries clamoring for their return. This they claim in spite of having had thieves among their personnel who have secretly and routinely stolen items from the collection and sold them for a pittance on ebay. Who says English arrogance died with their imperialism? Notable objects in stubborn resistance to the granting of restitution by the British museum are the Elgin marbles from the Parthenon in Greece and the Benin bronzes from the Edo region of what is now Nigeria. Greece continues to insist the Elgin marbles be returned even as English authorities maintain they were legally obtained from Ottoman occupiers. Nigerian authorities have dedicated a museum to their Benin bronzes, which were widely scattered among many mainly European museums. To complicate matters in their favor, British authorities point to legislative acts of ‘Heritage’ and ‘British Museum’ that prevent the transfer of (looted) cultural heritage from the UK. But what could they fear? It is morally repugnant to selfishly maintain control over foreign cultural objects that were essentially stolen from their host countries and English authorities must acknowledge this. It is time for the public to rise and protest the unacceptable imperial attitude of their government and cultural institutions to call for the peaceful and permanent transfer of these objects to their rightful origins.

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