This text is also available in German here.
Current debates on the restitution of looted objects from colonial contexts were at the core of Prof. Dr. Jürgen Zimmerer’s interview with the international TV station Al Jazeera English. As the main reason for the slow progress despite far-reaching declarations of intent, for example by Emmanuel Macron, he named the concerns of both museum officials and politicians, i.e. „‚once you start the restitution process, you can’t stop it'“, with museums fearing the dissolution of collections. Professor Zimmerer returned to this aspect at the end of the interview, adding the „rightwing backlash“ and widespread concerns over a loss of control over the restitution debate as factors for the dampening tendencies by politicians. In practice, legal provisions against restitutions prove to be an obstacle as well, for example in France and Germany.
Among the most heatedly debated objects are „iconic items“ such as the Benin Bronzes in particular, but also the Rosetta Stone or the bust of Nefertiti. The conflict’s relevance, Professor Zimmerer added, is however not limited to culture politics, but instead of general importance for international relations: „The question of looted objects leads to the question of colonial legacy at large“. Of major importance in that regard are the connections between colonialism and the global inequalities in wealth.
The whole interview in English: