Why do we feel other countries should share their culture, but then place bans on the export of our own
Institutions like the British Museum, along with much of the British Press, regularly denounce as cultural nationalism, claims by countries such as Greece and Egypt that looted artefacts should be returned. These countries are castigated for not sharing and they should be proud of the fact that other countries want their heritage, rather than seeing it as something that they want to retain.
When there is a chance of important British works ending up in foreign collections however, we regularly place export bans on them. While we encourage others to share, we are unwilling to do so ourselves. The situation is even more perverse than it first appears though -while the British items up for export are invariably up for sale in a public auction at the request of the current owner, many of the items that others ask to be returned were seized in times of war, or looted and then smuggled into the country without any permission being given.
Every few years a major export ban crops up in the news. Often, it is not even for a work that was originally British (such as the Picasso in the examples below), but something that we happened to acquire and would like to hang on to. We see something’s existence in Britain as making it a part of our culture, but we decry others for far lesser requests.
Queen Victoria’s coronet, currently subject to an export ban
Export ban placed on Queen Victoria’s wedding coronet
28 August 2016
A temporary export ban has been placed on a sapphire and diamond coronet that belonged to Queen Victoria, preventing it from being sold abroad.
The coronet, designed by Prince Albert for their wedding in 1840, is at risk of being exported unless a UK buyer matches the £5m asking price.
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