Return looted works of art to former colonies, Dutch committee tells government

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But attempts by Dutch museums to take account of the country’s colonial past have not always been well received by the public. Last year, the Hermitage Museum in Amsterdam said it would drop the term “golden age” for the 17th century era when the Netherlands was a world leader in art, science, and commerce, because the phrase obscured a history of slavery and exploitation. This decision was widely condemned and ridiculed by Prime Minister Mark Rutte as “absurd”.

Stijn Schoonderwoerd, director of the National Museum of World Cultures, a consortium of museums in the Netherlands, said if the Dutch report was implemented it would be important to engage the former colonies in discussions about the objects they might want to recover before any action has been taken.

“It would be almost neo-colonial to presume to know what is good for Indonesia, Suriname or any other country,” Mr. Schoonderwoerd said.

The report also discusses objects in Dutch museums that came from countries colonized by other European powers: the committee said a decision on their return should be made “on the basis of reasonableness and fairness, and on the basis of a balance of interests ”. Ms Gonçalves, chair of the committee, said international relations could be a factor in these decisions, as the report recommended unconditional return to the former colonies of the Netherlands.

But whatever the provenance of the objects, said Ms. Gonçalves, the Dutch government should act to right the wrongs of colonialism. “The main principle remains the same: what has been stolen must be returned.”

Alex Marshall and Constant Méheut contributed reporting.

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