Cultural Property and The Question of Repatriation

Monday, 4 April, 2022 - 16:00

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From one perspective repatriation is understood as the return of stolen property to its original owners. Which is a legal model. But from another repatriation is not about legal property but rather about the theft of a past which then was used to shore up European national heritage and the European nation state in a way that proved its superiority over native populations. Objects stolen, by a vast irony, became props in the belittling of their place of creation. Hence the demand for return.This is not a legal issue but a moral, political and economic one. Sometimes the two perspectives--legal v. moral/political and economic-- converge, but many times not. The two perspectives must be kept carefully separate for debates around repatriation to be properly negotiated. I will try to do this in what follows, finally focusing on questions of reparation, historical debt and economic inequality. These questions are closely connected to those of rights and responsibilities, themselves not always correlative since one may claim a responsibility to X even if one does not believe X has the right. I think this is central to the issue of historical debt, where the questions of who has what rights are contestable in a way that perhaps precludes resolution.

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