The British Empire at its height was the embodiment of imperialism. And imperialism in its lowest form, which the British were fond of, is completely heartless, merciless, cruel, sadist and utterly racist. These qualities spurred some of the most heinous atrocities in history committed by the British in their wars of conquests. And wherever they went, they were masters in stealing and plundering. Where they stole, they flew the precious items to Britain.
Up to now, countries such as Greece and Nigeria are still at loggerheads with Britain because of the stolen antiquities. A leading American human rights lawyer, Geoffrey Robertson QC is calling for the former colonizer to return stolen treasures taken from "subjugated peoples." He said the "conquerors or colonial masters" are the largest receivers of stolen treasures in the world and as such should return these - Britain exhibits "pilfered cultural property."
"The trustees of the British Museum have become the world’s largest receivers of stolen property, and the great majority of their loot is not even on public display." It suffices to say these people qualify as the most incorrigible and intransigent in the world, with no regard for other people's cultures, values, and customs.
He said the museum allows "stolen goods tour" which "stops at the Elgin marbles, Hoa Hakananai’a, the Benin bronzes and other pilfered cultural property." These three items are needed by Greece, Easter Island, and Nigeria.
He said, "That these rebel itineraries are allowed is a tribute to the tolerance of this great institution, which would be even greater if it washed its hands of the blood and returned Elgin’s loot."
Most of the stories on the acquisition of these stolen items are just half-truths pushed by the museum. They never took these things lawfully. It was always stealing. Wars of aggression led them to be in possession of these, and then they lock them up in their museums.
French president Emmanuel Macron once remarked, "African cultural heritage can no longer remain a prisoner of European museums." What current European leaders are supposed to do is redress the atrocities committed by their former empires by simply returning the stolen goods. The obstinacy not to return is what fuels the anger. "We cannot right historical wrongs – but we can no longer, without shame, profit from them," writes Robertson.
He also wrote, "The Benin bronzes, for example, are art which is important to Africa, but not to the world in the way that the marbles have international resonance. On the other hand, the barbaric manner of the taking of the bronzes amounted to a war crime, which is morally more despicable than Elgin’s theft and duplicity."
It seems a battle that the British are not prepared to lose. These goods are appendages of their former colonial glory. Perhaps it's the nostalgia of the empire that they religiously stick to - to the point that they will never ever heed calls to return stolen treasures.
Header image credit - Flickr