by Aggelos Skordas
British historian and co-presenter of BBC culture series “Civilisations” David Olusoga has urged his country to return “colonial artifacts” to the countries looted in the 19thcentury. Among those he suggested to be given back to their country of origin are the Parthenon Marbles, which are in display in the British Museum, after they were taken from Greece by Lord Elgin in the early 19thcentury under peculiar circumstances.
Addressing the annual Hay literary festival in Wales, Olusoga said that the British Museum should have a “supermarket sweep” where countries have two minutes to take back their artifacts. Referring to the Parthenon Marbles, the BBC historian characterised it as “such a stark case of theft”, adding that European and American museums were full of objects taken in violent raids from countries that are now the United Kingdoms’ trading partners, “there is a moral imperative to return the items,” he said.
Among the artifacts he suggested to be returned are the so-called Benin Bronzes, also housed in the British Museum, as well as numerous objects taken from the Summer Palace of Beijing in 1860 by Elgin’s son. According to Olusoga, such a move would strengthen London’s ties with the Commonwealth countries in the post-Brexit era:
“If our relationship with the Commonwealth after Brexit is going to be more important, they remember the things that were taken -and there are real senses of loss in those countries- it is beneficial for us as a nation to listen to these appeals.” He described, that a friend of his came up with a solution: “He said we should have a special version of supermarket sweep where every country is given a huge shopping trolley and two minutes in the British Museum. Maybe he is right, maybe that is the way forward”, he pointed out.
“The idea that your national treasure would be in the museum of another country is something that as British people we would find absolutely impossible to get our heads around, but that is what Nigerians have to think about”, he continued referring to some 200 “stolen” bronzes that decorated the royal palace of the kingdom of Benin, today part of southern Nigeria. “The things that we regard as the greatest cultural artifacts, the greatest things we ever produced, our greatest works of art are in the museums of other countries, and we know the date they were taken and the circumstances they were taken”, the historian of Nigerian descent concluded.