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David Cameron argues against returnism, stating that he does not support return of Parthenon Sculptures

British Prime Minister, David Cameron had already indicated in 2010, that he had no interest in considering the return of the Koh-i-noor [1] diamond to India. During his current visit to the country, he has once again re-iterated his point – but this time extended it to cover other cases such as the Parthenon Marbles (although it is not the first time he has mentioned his views on that case [2] either).

Taking this approach is a great shame. He wants to encourage greater trade links with India, and he has made limited apologies [3] for some of the worst atrocities of colonial rule, but at the same time, his actions suggest that he still believes we are in the age of empire – that Britain can lay down the way problems are to be dealt with & that everyone else had to just buy into it, without any real option to put their point of view across properly.

He argues that the British Museum is already linking up with other museums around the world, but whenever this has taken place, it is very much the British Museum that sets the terms of how the relationship will operate – and in most cases is created to promote a two way traffic (i.e. to enrich the permanent collection in London with high quality temporary loans). Any reciprocal loans are something that they accept as part of some deal, yet it rarely feels as though they are a driving factor.

Cameron talks of returnism – labeling complex cases as though they are all basically the same & can be dealt with by a short comment, whereas the reality is that each case is very different. There is a huge range between cases, from those strong restitution cases where there is a clear argument for return & relatively weak ones, where for most people, the balance might sway in favour of them being retained, perhaps because their original purchase was legitimately made, or perhaps because of when / how they were taken etc.

Certain sectors of Britain’s ruling classes need to wake up to the fact that we no longer have an empire & that times have changed – we might have once led the world, but dragging our heels in the attempts to cling onto the past will be of no help in trying to regain this position.

Kathimerini (English Edition) [4]

Thursday February 21, 2013
Cameron rules out return of Parthenon marbles

British Prime Minister David Cameron has ruled out the return of the so-called Elgin marbles to Greece.

Speaking from India, where he is on an official visit, on Thursday the Tory leader turned down requests for the return of the Koh-i-noor diamond to Britain’s former colony saying he did not believe in “returnism.”

“It is the same question with the Elgin marbles,” Cameron said, referring to the classical Greek marble sculptures currently on display at the British Museum in London.

Greece has long campaigned for the marbles, which are part of the Parthenon temple on the Acropolis and which were removed by Lord Elgin during Ottoman rule, to be returned to their rightful place.

“The right answer is for the British Museum and other cultural institutions to do exactly what they do, which is to link up with other institutions around the world to make sure that the things which we have and look after so well are properly shared with people around the world,” Cameron said.

The Koh-i-noor diamond is set in the crown of the late Queen Mother and is on display with the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London. It was presented to Queen Victoria in 1850 under the Empire’s rule. India has made repeated requests for its return.

Guardian [5]

David Cameron defends lack of apology for British massacre at Amritsar
First serving UK prime minister to visit scene of 1919 Indian shootings says it would be wrong to ‘reach back’ into history
Nicholas Watt in Amritsar
The Guardian, Wednesday 20 February 2013 09.04 GMT

David Cameron has defended his decision to stop short of delivering a formal British apology for the Amritsar massacre in 1919, in which at least 379 innocent Indians were killed.

As relatives of the victims expressed disappointment, the prime minister said it would be wrong to “reach back into history” and apologise for the wrongs of British colonialism.

He was speaking shortly after becoming the first serving British prime minister to visit the scene of the massacre, which emboldened the Indian independence movement. He bowed his head at the memorial, in the Jallianwala Bagh public gardens. In a handwritten note in the book of condolence for victims of the massacre, Cameron quoted Winston Churchill’s remarks from 1920. He described the shootings, in his own words, as a “deeply shameful event”.

As he prepared to leave Amritsar, Cameron explained why he had decided against issuing an apology. “In my view,” he said, “we are dealing with something here that happened a good 40 years before I was even born, and which Winston Churchill described as ‘monstrous’ at the time and the British government rightly condemned at the time. So I don’t think the right thing is to reach back into history and to seek out things you can apologise for.

“I think the right thing is to acknowledge what happened, to recall what happened, to show respect and understanding for what happened.

“That is why the words I used are right: to pay respect to those who lost their lives, to remember what happened, to learn the lessons, to reflect on the fact that those who were responsible were rightly criticised at the time, to learn from the bad and to cherish the good.”

Among the relatives of the victims who were disappointed that the prime minister had not apologised was Sunil Kapoor, whose great grandfather Waso Mal Kapoor died in the shootings. He said: “If he said it is shameful, why did he not apologise?”

Kapoor, president of the Jallianwala Bagh Freedom Fighters’ Foundation, said: “I am not satisfied that he did not meet the families. We have waited 94 years for justice.”

Cameron said Britain could still be proud of its former empire – while acknowledging the mistakes – as he rejected demands to return the Koh-i-Noor diamond to India from the British crown jewels.

He said: “I think there is an enormous amount to be proud of in what the British empire did and was responsible for. But of course there were bad events as well as good events. The bad events we should learn from and the good events we should celebrate.

“In terms of our relationship with India is our past a help or a handicap? I would say, net-net, it is a help, because of the shared history, culture, and the things we share and the contributions that Indians talk about that we have made.”

Asked whether Britain should return the diamond, he said:

“I don’t think that is the right approach. It is the same question with the Elgin marbles,” he said. “It is for the British Museum and other cultural centres to do exactly what they do do, which is link up with museums all over the world to make sure that the things we have, and are looked after so well, are properly shared with people around the world. No, I certainly don’t believe in returnism.”

The Indians were shot dead in Amritsar by riflemen acting on the orders of Brigadier General Reginald Dyer. No 10 believes there is no need to apologise because the British state condemned Dyer’s actions at the time. As war secretary in 1920, Churchill described the shootings as “a monstrous event, an event which stands in singular and sinister isolation”.

Sukumar Mukhajee, secretary of the memorial committee, whose grandfather survived the shootings, welcomed Cameron’s remarks. Mukhajee, who met the prime minister, said: “He has come here. He has paid his tribute. It is more than an apology.”

Anita Anand, the BBC presenter, tweeted during Cameron’s visit: “My grandfather was one of the lucky few who survived.”

The prime minister hopes his strong condemnation of the shootings will help Britain and India to move on from what the Queen has described as the sadness of the past. He believes he is on firm ground in declining to apologise because of Churchill’s strong language a few months after Dyer was forced to retire.

Churchill told the House of Commons on 8 July 1920: “That is an episode which appears to me to be without precedent or parallel in the modern history of the British empire. It is an event of an entirely different order from any of those tragical occurrences which take place when troops are brought into collision with the civil population.”

The prime minister, who has an eye on the Sikh vote in Britain, paid an hour-long visit to the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Out of respect to Sikhs as he visited their holiest site, he wore a dark blue bandana on his head.

The prime minister said he had been moved by his visit to the Golden Temple. “Today was fascinating and illuminating – to go to the place that is so central to the Sikh religion. I am proud to be the first British prime minister to go and visit the Golden Temple and see what an extraordinary place it is – very moving, very serene, very spiritual. It was a huge honour and a great thing to be able to do. I learnt a lot.

“In coming here, to Amritsar, we should also celebrate the immense contribution that people from the Punjab play in Britain – the role they play, what they give to our country. What they contribute to our country is outstanding.

“It is important to understand that, to pay respect to that, and to seek a greater understanding of the Sikh religion. And that is why the visit to the holy temple, the Golden Temple, was so important.”