Advice to Minister: Unconditionally return colonial ‘robbery’

The Netherlands must return all the colonial heritage to the countries of origin, if it can be reasonably certain that those countries have lost the documents involuntarily. Today, the Council for Culture gives this opinion to Minister Van Engelshoven.

For many museums it is a struggle to do with this part of their collection, but the Council is clear: โ€œHistorical injustice that has taken place in the colonial past cannot be undone. But a contribution to the restoration of injustice can be made by taking responsibility for that past when dealing with colonial objects.โ€

The director of the Tropenmuseum thinks that despite the advice there will be enough art in the Netherlands:

These are works of art that were conquered during colonial wars or when the Netherlands owned Indonesia and Suriname. Specifically, the period between the beginning of the 17th century, when the first ships departed from the Netherlands to Asia and 1975, the year that Suriname became an independent republic. Since these works of art are often unfairly obtained, it is necessary to engage in discussions with the countries on the return of the works of art, the Council considers.

Weapons, flags and human remains

It is unclear how many works of art are involved, but the Council estimates that the opinion has an effect on hundreds of thousands of objects. These include ceremonial weapons, flags, religious objects and sometimes human remains, said Jos van Beurden, an independent expert on the return of colonial heritage, last night in the CCEIT programme with the eye on tomorrow.

โ€œ The first step is to recognise that the possession of cultural goods against their will has been wronged to the original population of the colonial territories,โ€ says the report. In order to remedy this injustice, the Netherlands must declare an unconditional return. This willingness means that the interest is not weighed against other interests. โ€œRehabilitation of injustice is achieved not only by return, but also by acknowledging injustice and using its remediation as a principle of principle.โ€

It is also recommended that this policy be aligned with the countries where the Netherlands exercised colonial authority, including Indonesia, Suriname and the Caribbean islands. โ€œWatch for a neo-colonial repetition of the past in which, above all, own views, feelings, norms and values are guiding the action.โ€

The Minister thus becomes the representative of the State which determines whether or not the goods are returned, according to the Council for Culture. It should be assisted by an independent advisory committee. The Council also believes that a centre of expertise should be set up to examine the origin of cultural goods in return requests and set up a database. Museums will also have to investigate the provenance of their colonial cultural goods.

That provenance study is now taking a very long time, said Van Beurden and cultural historian Nancy Jouwe in Het Oog. In 1980, Sri Lanka asked for the return of Kandys cannon, one of the showpieces in the Rijksmuseum. The cannon is still in the Netherlands, but talks are being held between Sri Lanka and the Netherlands.

โ€œ Thorough research can be unnecessarily long,โ€ says Van Beurden. Yours: โ€œI think there is a lack of will and priority, including in museums. Part of it is state-owned, so the government also has a role in this. Sometimes museums use that a little bit to hide behind it.โ€

Van Beurden hopes that the long duration of research will be adjusted and that a maximum research time will be agreed. โ€œTheyve been working on one object for years, how are the hundreds of thousands of objects going? Actually, youd like a loosening, a general pardon. That if everyone knows that something is a spoils of war, no more research needs to be done.โ€