Repatriation Efforts Across Europe and the US

Repatriation Efforts are Coming to a Stop in Europe and the United States, Amid Modifications in Public Attitude.

Feb 20, 2024By Angela Davic, News, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and Analysis
The British Museum, Repatriation Efforts
The British Museum. Via Wikipedia.


Repatriation efforts are coming to a stop in Europe and the United States. This is all happening amid modifications in public attitude. Restitution certainly experienced a radical transformation in recent years, even if it remained a hot topic in art circles for decades, on and off. While the repair and return issues remain heated, we came to an important turning point.


Repatriation Efforts…One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Marble metope from the Parthenon, via British Museum.


News about returned and seized items, projects, pending and resolved litigation, and other events remained constant throughout 2023. Also, discussion about arrangements reached between Europe and the Global South. Most commentators mention French President Emmanuel Macron‘s 2017 address in Burkina Faso. He said he wanted “the conditions met for the temporary or definitive restitution of African heritage to Africa”.


Since then, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Switzerland established national standards or panels to assess compensation claims. Also, on returning items obtained throughout the corresponding colonial eras. Furthermore, recent legislation has been implemented in Belgium and France to expedite the procedure. It looks like France and Austria will roll out fresh regulations along these lines in 2024.


The exhibition “Art of Benin of yesterday and today: from Restitution to Revelation”


The culture ministries of France and Germany declared their intention to establish a cooperative fund to investigate the provenance of museum pieces originating from previously colonised African regions. Restitution attempts are on hold in many countries and institutional collections, despite advances. For example, a second government-commissioned assessment, authored by former director of the Museum Jean-Luc Martinez, strengthened regulations on restoration rules.

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What About Public Opinion?

Restitution ceremony NYC. Via The Monuments Men and Women Foundation (MMWF)


It aimed to serve as a guide for legislators as they drafted laws to allow the deaccession of stolen artwork, especially from Africa. At the moment, the majority of items in France’s national collection cannot return without a parliamentary vote. The United Kingdom parliament, meanwhile, passed the Charities Act in 2022. sections 15 and 16 “would allow national museums to return material in rare cases where there is an overwhelming moral obligation to do so”.


In Germany, the return of some Benin bronzes to Nigeria faced backlash. Public discussions over reparations are heating up in tandem with the ongoing debate in parliaments across the world. “More communities [in Cameroon] are interested in restitution, but also in reparations for the people killed, sometimes in the hundreds”, Richard Tsogang Fossi, a fellow at the Technical University of Berlin said.


Dionysus by Pheidias, 438-432 BC, from the East pediment of the Parthenon, via the British Museum, London


Leila Amineddoleh, an art lawyer based in New York who pushed for the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece, claims that the racial justice movement sparked by the police assassination of George Floyd is sometimes credited with igniting a larger public demand for restitution throughout Europe and North America. “Part of this movement is a recognition that heritage is important to everyone. It should be accessible to everyone, and the people in the origin nations as well”.

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By Angela DavicNews, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and AnalysisAngela is a journalism student at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade and received a scholarship for continued education in Prague. She completed her internship at the daily newspaper DANAS and worked as an executive editor at Talas.