February 24, 2013

The Koh-i-noor diamond, the Parthenon Marbles & the Benin Bronzes – three disputed artefact cases

Posted at 7:31 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

Kwame Opoku writes about British Prime Minister David Cameron’s comments on the Koh-i-noor diamond & the Parthenon Marbles during his trip to India.

Kwame Opoku (by email)


On the last day of his trade visit to India, David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, ruled out the return of the Kohinoor Diamond to India and added that the same applied to the Parthenon /Elgin Marbles. (1)

Cameron thought it was best that these objects be left where they are in the care of the British Museum

He said treasures such as the Elgin Marbles, brought back to the UK at the turn of the 19th century, should remain in British museums while being made available to be ‘properly shared’ with institutions abroad. He also added that he did not believe in “returnism”.

“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 not in a museum but is part of the crown jewels; it is the central piece of the British Queen’s coronation crown

What David Cameron stated in India is nothing new. He has said that before and is merely repeating the standard British Museum/British Government answer to repatriation demand. Cameron did not mention the Benin bronzes and other looted/stolen objects in British museums but it is clear he was enunciating a general principle that would apply to the Benin artefacts that the British stole in their notorious invasion of Benin in 1879. The British have always argued that if the return the Parthenon Marbles, the Nigerians would request the return of the Benin bronzes, thus amalgamating artefacts of different nature, different histories and quality; that the so-called flood gates would be opened

The Greek Government, through the minister for cultural affairs has answered Cameron’s declaration by stating that there is “difference in approach and conception separating us (Greece) from the United Kingdom on the issue of the Parthenon Marbles”, and emphasized that:”it is not necessary for us to reiterate anything else on this issue apart from that: Greece’s steadfast national position has been and will always be that the Marbles be repatriated and be materially linked to the place where the civilisation that created them was born and flourished.” http://www.elginism.com

At almost the same time as Cameron was telling Indians and Greeks that their famous artefacts would not be returned, the Nigerians were reported to be discussing with the British Museum and other European museums about the return of the Benin bronzes. (2). Is it possible that the British Museum would take a position different from that of the British Prime Minister and different from the museum’s standard and constant position over the last 50 years?

It is noticeable that the British have always made their position clear and spoken loudly whilst the Nigerians are following quiet diplomacy. As we have often said, the Europeans are shouting from the rooftop their determination to hold on to their ill-gotten artefacts whilst the Nigerians are whispering in the living room their fervent desire to recover their looted artefacts. That policy has so far not brought the Nigerians, contrary to all appearances, any tangible restitution.(3)

How can one pursue a policy of quiet diplomacy when the opposing party is always clear and loud about its consistent position?

Kwame Opoku, 21 February, 2013.


1. http://www.elginism.com/category/british-museum/
2. Tajudeen Sowole, Amid hope of restitution, Nigeria hosts foreign museums
3. K.Opoku, What we understand by “restitution”.

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  1. madamefang said,

    02.24.13 at 7:48 pm

    RT @elginism: Blog post: The Koh-i-noor diamond, the Parthenon Marbles & the Benin Bronzes – three disputed artefact cases http://t. …

  2. zaksam said,

    02.24.13 at 8:11 pm

    RT @elginism: Blog post: The Koh-i-noor diamond, the Parthenon Marbles & the Benin Bronzes – three disputed artefact cases http://t. …

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