Germany lays the groundwork for the repatriation of colonial-era artifacts

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Humboldt-Forum/Stadtschloss, Berlin leuchtet 2017 “Underground Walk” von Enrico Verworner. Photograph by Frank Haase. Original location here.

The Humboldt Forum in Berlin, a new state-funded museum scheduled to open this fall, has become the target of great criticism. The Forum, which will include large African and Asian archaeological and ethnological collections, is being labelled by critics as an unethical monument to colonialism.

With these protests as the backdrop, and the recent restitution report from French President Macron still at the forefront of cultural heritage news, Germany just released an eight-page resolution with guidelines for the repatriation of colonial-era artifacts.

The document’s preamble includes the statement, “In our understanding, all people should have the opportunity to encounter their rich material cultural heritage in their countries and societies of origin, to deal with it and to pass it on to future generations. The injustice that took place during the colonial period and its consequences, some of which still have an effect today, must not be forgotten.”

Berner Wolter, a spokesman from the Humboldt Forum has, assured the public that these new guidelines will have little impact on the collection, as the Forum “has already followed these principles in its plans in recent years,” and that the new agreement “represents a renewed call to pursue this topic even more intensively.”

The new German resolution lays the foundation for developing an official identification and repatriation process for objects taken from past German colonial states, but critics of the new agreement argue that it yet lacks legally binding authority and can therefore function only as a guideline in its current form. It is, however, a good start.

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The Humboldt Forum in Berlin, a new state-funded museum scheduled to open this fall, has become the target of great criticism. The Forum, which will include large African and Asian archaeological and ethnological collections, is being labelled by critics as an unethical monument to colonialism.
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