July 14, 2009

Cultural property that Britain would like returned

Posted at 1:13 pm in Similar cases

Britain’s aggressive anti-restitution stance in many cultural property cases is in part down to the fact that Britain has few claims on its own culture abroad – for the UK it is largely a one way issue.

There are however cases (which aren’t necessarily disputed) where items which connect with British cultural identity are located abroad – a situation that many believe is detrimental. No cultural property case is the same as another – but there are always similarities – most clearly seen in the fact that the original owners see themselves as having a connection with the item that the new owners do not possess.

Understanding of such cases by the country they affect ought to encourage reflection on other cases where they sit on the opposite side of the argument – unfortunately this rarely seems to be the case.

New & Star (Carlisle)

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Last updated 14:13, Monday, 13 July 2009

Among the reams of coverage surrounding Michael Jackson’s death, no-one seemed to notice the striking parallel with the Elgin Marbles.

In 1812 Lord Elgin removed the marble statues from the Parthenon, the ancient temple above Athens, and shipped them to Britain. He sold them to the Government who installed them in the British Museum in London.

For many years the Greek government has requested their return home, saying they are an important part of that country’s heritage.

Part of our heritage also disappeared overseas in 1985, when Michael Jackson outbid Paul McCartney for ownership of the Beatles’ back catalogue.

So every time our greatest living songwriter performed Hey Jude or Yesterday, he had to pay royalties to the former King of Pop. There were reports last year that Jackson would return the songs to McCartney in his will. As it turns out he didn’t.

I have a lot of sympathy with the Greek position on the Marbles. If the Crown Jewels were in a museum in Athens we would be entitled to ask for their return. But isn’t it a shame that some of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll music ever written – and an important part of Britain’s cultural heritage – is still abroad?

Shouldn’t it get back where it once belonged?

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  1. DR. KWAME OPOKU said,

    07.15.09 at 6:51 am

    How can anybody reason in this way? The restitution cases are not based on the fact that some art work produced by a person of country A is now found in country B. The basis of most claims is that the object has been acquired by force or threat of force as in the colonial days or acquired under circumstances that are not free from doubt, as in the case of the Parthenon/Elgin Marbles. If the late Michael Jackson acquired those rights by a clearly established valid legal contract with the owners, then there is no case against his estate.

    If the Crown Jewels were in a museum in Athens, the British would be entitled to ask for their return only if they were illegally acquired by the museum in Athens or under dubious circumstances. This not being the case, there would be no case to answer even in your hypothetical case.

    In most of the restitution cases, we are dealing with real and concrete cases of injustice.

    Kwame Opoku

  2. Matthew said,

    07.15.09 at 12:42 pm

    This is exactly the problem – whilst there are parallels, the two cases aren’t remotely comparable – so making the comparison with a very weak / non-existent case detracts from the valid & very real cases.

    However, if their level of annoyance at this case was applied to other cass within the UK, then almost every artefact that claims have been made on ought to be returned immediately.

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