Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"Britain's Scattered Heritage": In the Eyes of the Law

The cases discussed in this blog illustrate the range of mechanisms and historical accidents that have contrived to Britain losing a considerable portion of culturally-important objects to foreign collections. In most cases there is little that Britain can do by applying existing laws to get this stuff back. Most of it left the country before the various international conventions and treaties (such as UNESCO's 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Cultural Property ), some were lost as a result of invasion and colonization - though here their status as 'war booty' is disputable, this being a still-unclear area of international legislation, while some were gifted away or sold in the past by people entitled to do this by the standards of the times.

We however live in different times and the spirit of international collaboration surely requires an elastic approach to claims to disputed cultural property rather than a simple fait accompli approach. There is a considerable body of public opinion in Britain behind the idea of repatriation of this material, and political and economic gains involved, not to mention the moral arguments in favour of doing so. Let us act now to right the wrongs that have been wrought on our national culture by foreign culture-grabbing and retentionist foreign nations.

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