Home Arts The Austrian government will propose a law on the restitution of museum objects acquired in a colonial context

The Austrian government will propose a law on the restitution of museum objects acquired in a colonial context

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The Austrian government aims to propose legislation governing the return of objects in national museums acquired in a colonial context by March 2024, Culture Secretary Andrea Mayer told a press conference today.

A government-appointed advisory committee headed by Jonathan Fine, the scientific director of the Weltmuseum in Vienna, has called for a permanent, ‘intellectually and culturally diverse’ assessment committee to submit recommendations to the government on returns of objects acquired during the colonial era. The government would then decide based on its findings; returns should be handled “state to state,” the committee recommended in its report released today.

Mayer said Austria aimed to introduce an “orderly, consistent and comprehensive” process for handling restitution claims. “Leaders in European countries have long viewed large parts of the world as places where they can help themselves; they just took artifacts and considered it their natural right,” she said. “Calling out this injustice and responding to it with serious debate and concrete action is also Austria’s responsibility.”

Fine said there is currently no estimate of the number of objects in Austrian national museums that might be eligible for return, but that he believes “a very large number” of the 200,000 objects in the collection of the Weltmuseum were taken in a colonial context. The Advisory Commission defined items eligible for return as those whose owners “did not wish to part with them at the time of their collection” – encompassing, for example, those lost “under conditions of violence, looting, theft, by coercion or by deceptive means.”

Austria only dabbled in colonialism briefly in the 18th century, when the Habsburg Monarchy attempted to establish colonies in the Nicobar Islands as well as parts of Mozambique and Southeast and Central Asia. ‘East. But it profited from the colonial exploits of other nations. Austrian individuals and organizations acquired objects during armed conflicts and scientific and political expeditions, and engaged in trade and Christian missions to the colonies of other countries.

“Colonial propaganda was strengthened, research on ‘racial science’ intensified, and colonialist thought and attitudes dominated public opinion,” the advisory committee said in its report. “As one of the successors to the Habsburg Monarchy, the Republic of Austria paid relatively little attention to the colonial history of its predecessor.” Provenance research in Austrian colonial contexts “is still in its infancy”, the committee said.

The advisory committee also called for continued support for provenance research and permanent funds to support civil society initiatives to promote awareness of the legacy of colonialism.

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