February 22, 2013
David Cameron’s comments on the Koh-i-noor diamond have provoked huge amounts of controversy amongst Indians everywhere, with thousands of posts on twitter speaking out against his attitude. The vocal attitude of the restitution supporters is to be encouraged – and perhaps other countries could learn from some of their techniques and apply them to their own campaigns. I was particularly intrigued by this comedy routine discussing the diamond – and its continued retention by Britain.
The British Prime Minister made apologies, for some of the worst acts committed in India during the time of the British Empire – something that may have required much thinking & soul searching (& possibly even a few conversations with lawyers about any potential increase in liability / culpability). At the same time though, this was only a statement, something that required no physical or financial commitment. On the case of the Koh-i-nor however, making any sort of commitment would mean that he had to actually do something rather than just talking about it.
The saying that actiona speak louder than words is well known – but the very different approach to these two issues by David Cameron suggests that our Prime Minister would far prefer to be a man of (cheap) words, than one of (expensive actions). Words are meaningless unless they are followed up by some physical commitment.
In part, the British PM is no doubt worried that the return of such a high profile artefact as the Koh-i-noor, a diamond famous around the world, that forms part of the crown jewels. He is worried that restitution could be a vote loser, whereas, the clamour of voices for return is still not loud enough for its continued retention to be seen as cause for concern. Where people think that there is a just case for return (of any artefacts), they must continue to make their feelings known – letting the current owners know that the issue is not going to go away if it is ignored – that some sort of compromise or negotiated agreement needs to be met. Almost always, there is potential for an agreement that can benefit both sides – but it often involves thinking outside the box, to consider what each side has that may benefit the other & most of all, to put aside worries about any temporary loss of face that may be caused by doing the right thing.
Throughout all of this, we must remember that the Koh-i-noor (like many other restitution cases) is a complex issue. Different parties take different positions on the circumstances of the original acquisition – was it a spoil of war, or a legitimate exchange? If someone’s hand is forced in making a deal, does the deal still hold the same legitimacy? Furthermore, India is not the only country claiming ownership of the gem – so even if it returned, they might then have to deal with other restitution claims from Iran, Pakistan & Afghanistan (these are the potential claimants that I know of – there may well be others).
Modern India is a very different place, from the one that gave up the diamond to Britain in 1849 – in much the same way as contemporary Greece bears little resemblance to 1800, when it formed an outpost of the Ottoman empire. If Britain wants to deal with (& benefit from the wealth of) these modern countries, perhaps it needs to do something to put right some of the actions that reduced their culture in the past – rather than just returning again wanting to take more (albeit in a very different way).
Where does this all leave the Elgin Marbles? Well, Cameron has previously made his (ill informed) views on this subject clear in the past, so the fact that he has not had a sudden change of heart should not be seen as a big surprise. What is ridiculous however, is his lumping of completely different cases together under the one umbrella – the suggestion that all cases should be dealt with by a single statement, rather than even starting to consider the varying individual merits & circumstances of each one.
Cameron upsets many with the use of the term Elgin Marbles – a phrase that has for a long time been deprecated by the British Museum & that (while known to the public), is no longer taken as being the correct name for these sculptures. Use of such terms in public statements, suggests that he has only a passing acquaintance with the actual facts of these cases, meaning that his cursory brushing away of any suggestions of restitution is all the more galling.
I spoke before of his use of the word returnism – a term that does not seem to have many other mentions elsewhere – perhaps I should not complain too loudly about this though – particularly as the title of this blog is equally guilty of nealogizing… I actually quite like the term – if I hadn’t named this site Elginism, perhaps returnism would have been a good alternative name.
February 21, 2013 07:20
Britain doesn’t plan on returning Koh-i-Noor diamond to India, says Cameron
The enormous Koh-i-Noor diamond may have originated in India, but it won’t be returned to its original owners, reiterated British prime minister David Cameron on the third day of an official visit to India this week.
The 105-karat Koh-i-Noor diamond once graced the crown of Queen Elizabeth I and remains an integral part of the British collection of crown jewels, displayed at the Tower of London.
Read the rest of this entry »