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Thursday, December 2, 2021

France gives up a part of looted colonial treasures, will UK follow?

France has transferred ownership of 26 royal treasures, including sacred altars and statues, stolen from Benin some 130 years ago back to the African nation, as President Emmanuel Macron met his counterpart Patrice Talon in Paris, reports RT.com.

On Tuesday, Macron said that he and Talon had signed an agreement earlier in the morning to return the artifacts, with the French president claiming he was “very happy because it is a moment, not only symbolic, but moving and historical.”  

Macron noted that the first repatriation request issued by the Beninese authorities in 2016 had been refused by the French government at the time on the grounds that the ‘treasures were an important part of the country’s public collection’. 

The 26 works – plundered by French troops in 1892 during the sacking of the Royal Palaces of Abomey – will leave with Talon on his return to Benin.

This ceremony marks the final stage of a process that began with Emmanuel Macron’s promise in 2017 to proceed with the restitution of African heritage in France. A law passed in December 2020 in France made these restitutions possible in Benin by allowing derogations to the principle of “inalienability” of works in public collections, because they had been subject to “clear looting”.

Talon thanked Macron for the “symbolic and unexpected” gesture, but made it clear that there was still much that France needed to return. “How do you expect my enthusiasm to be complete” when France still holds other key artifacts, the Beninese leader asked.  

A lot of Bharat’s civilizational heritage, mostly looted and stolen temple murtis (consecrated sculptures of Hindu/Dharmic deities) has also made its way back to Bharat in recent years, due to efforts of private groups like India Pride Project and the current government led by PM Modi.

Governments of Canada, Germany and Australia have assisted in return of stolen Bharatiya artifacts lying in foreign museums and art galleries/collections. But the bulk of the looted items, including the prized Kohinoor diamond  (centrepiece of the Crown Jewels on display at the Tower of London), that were looted from Bharat by the British colonial rulers has yet to be returned by UK.

Even the Hinduphobic historian William Dalrymple admitted in 2016 that the British government has never ever returned any gold or jewels back to any former colony. But there is a section of Brits who are clear that stolen colonial loot should be returned to its real owners, and ridicule their own government for being in denial –

Last year, Bharat’s foreign minister S. Jaishankar had pressed upon UK to return Bharat’s stolen treasures. At the same time, Bharat’s Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the body responsible for protecting our heritage and which is in possession of many returned artifacts, needs to be made more professional and accountable.

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