Karlsruhe/Berlin (dpa) – Museums want to make their contribution to reparations when addressing colonial legacy – but returning looted cultural property and objects can only be a start from the point of view of the German Museums Association. “It is good that culture plays the role of a catalyst,” said the outgoing federation president Eckart Kony of the German Press Agency. Cultural heritage is only one aspect. The actual goal should be global cooperation beyond cultural exchange. Politicians should also question their commitment in Africa and elsewhere, for example regarding fair economic relations and the common problem of climate change.
Cohn was unable to determine how many questionable objects were stored in museums that needed to be returned. It can be imagined that many objects remain in museums, for example on permanent loan or in exhibitions. In the case of the Bronzes in Benin, there were reasonable solutions. In German museums there are about 1,100 ornate bronze objects from the palace of the former Kingdom of Benin, which today belong to Nigeria. Most of them come from the British looting in 1897. The goal is to return things, start cooperation and intensify exchange.
Agreements with legal owners are also possible. The Badisches Landes Museum, run by Köhne, shows this with the porcelain collection of Jewish industrialist Ernst Gallinek: it was returned to heirs as looted by the Nazis, but thanks to its state purchase, it is still in the museum.
Cohn advised a different approach when dealing with group history. “It is not possible to rewrite history by today’s standards.” Part of the so-called Turkish booty in the State Museum was captured on the battlefield. But these are just a few of the 600 items from the period between 1680 and 1700. “This is a historical event, but it is not a matter of colonial heritage,” Cony stressed. The Baden-Margrafs deliberately collected Ottoman art.
In order to prevent illegal imports, the Law on the Protection of Cultural Property came into force in 2016. From Kuhn’s point of view, it is an important tool that can be evaluated and, if necessary, re-amended: “Many items have no papers. Is the affidavit from the previous owner Enough for us or do we need more tests? There is still room for evasion.”
The head of the Museums Fund believes that dealing with the colonial legacy requires a lot of time and sufficient human resources. “It is a generational task that cannot be resolved quickly.” Not all of the colonial cultural treasures in museums were looted. Many were also bought, exchanged, or given as gifts. According to Kuhn, restitution is mandatory if moral and ethical principles are affected. For example, he cited human remains that ended up in anthropological groups, or shrunken heads, for example. The latter were made as trophies by hunters and used for worship purposes until the nineteenth century.
“It’s not primarily about legal issues, but about moral obligation,” Kuhn emphasized. Countries of origin must be included in the background check.
Kony will step down as president of the Museum Association at the beginning of May. His successor will be director of the Bremen Obersee Museum, weeps Ahrendt (58). Members of the Berlin-based consortium will decide on the board’s proposal on May 10 in Merzeg, Saarland. Kony was president of the Association of Museums in Germany for eight years. During his time, the association became more political and has grown from 2,800 to 4,000 members today (1,150 museums and individual members).
© dpa-infocom, dpa: 220418-99-951654 / 2