Time to return stolen loot
Sir, – The recent calls that Berlin should “face up to its historic responsibility” and speed up the return of the recently uncovered stolen treasures, can give the impression that the looting of art and cultural artefacts was a uniquely Nazi phenomenon. Fintan O’Toole’s excellent article (Culture Shock, November 9th) on the looted treasures in Ireland, stemming from our time of active participation in the British empire, puts paid to that notion.
The long-held Chinese view of the West as “barbarian” was reinforced by the frenzy of looting and destruction of some of that civilisation’s oldest shrines as, for example, in the burning of the Old Summer Palace and Garden (the “Yuanmingyuan”) by the British-led Anglo French expedition of 1860. They estimate that 1.6 million looted objects from this event alone are still extant abroad and are calling for their restoration.
The Egyptians, perhaps, have been the most vociferous of all in seeking the return from the former colonial powers, of their priceless heritage. Their calls, too, are being ignored.
Ireland’s relatively high standing in the UN and in the “non-aligned” world derives in part from its perceived tradition of resistance to colonialism over a long period of time. It might be a fitting gesture, therefore, to the men and women of 1916 if an Irish government were to direct its museums and galleries to begin the process of repatriation of all identifiably stolen treasures, as and from that centenary date. More importantly, such a gesture would put pressure on London, Paris, Berlin and other former imperial capitals and help bring to a close one of the more visible and shameful reminders of Europe’s colonial past. – Is mise,