Germany versus Russia over art

In the Guardian of 22/06/2013, I read that PM Merkel visited Russia, mainly to participate in an economic forum but her visit almost resulted in a diplomatic problem. Indeed, PM Angela Merkel and President Vladimir Putin were planning to visit the opening of an exhibition of Bronze Age treasures in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg. But it seems PM Merkel prepared the wrong speech wherein she wanted to ask for the return of hundreds of pieces of art, looted (stolen) by the Russian army after the defeat of Germany at the end of WWII. In the end, being diplomatic softened the troubles.

It is quite impressive someone from Germany wants to ask the return of its art from a country that suffered so severely from Germany during WWII. Millions of people in the USSR were killed by the Germans (although often President Stalin didn't mind as he was equal to Hitler in killing people but because of Hitler, Stalin was regarded as the saviour of his country against an evil German and thus managed to stay in power for another 8 years after the war until his death, imprisoning and killing many in his country and in countries that were under its influence. Even now, Russians start to remember Stalin as the good guy against the evil West that caused the recent financial downfall, certainly after the banking debacle in Cyprus).

It seems an estimated 2.5 million items were sent to the USSR by the Red Army although it seems about 1.5 million pieces of art were returned between 1955 and 1960, including the Pergamon Altar, now in a museum in Berlin (while it seems some in Turkey are asking it should be returned by Germany although I think it is good some of their art is abroad so people visiting those museums also want to know the rest in the original country and thus will visit it).

Thus, about 1 million pieces have not been returned. Amongst the pieces the Germans like to see returned are the Treasure of Eberswalde, containing gold pieces from the Bronze Age and found in Germany in 1913. But The Germans also ask the return of other pieces, although if you look closely to the list of objects, it is often art stolen in other countries by Germans (e.g. during excavation expeditions in previous centuries). For instance, it seems they ask the return of the Treasure of Priamos, found in Troy (Turkey) and also containing gold pieces while if any country wants its return it should be Turkey. Thus, I think that claiming Russia stole art from Germany is hypocrisy. To me, it shows German leaders no longer have remorse for the atrocities their country committed in other countries during WWI and WWII.

If one wants to be hated, then one has to ask the return of art stolen by another country as revenge for the killing of its citizens during a war while at the same time demanding more austerity. Then one should not be surprised one is depicted as Hitler himself as already happened in some countries. WWII and Germany's role is still in many people's memories.

In the end, Germany changed tactics and PM Merkel didn't deliver her speech in order to soften tensions, seemingly accepting they were hurting Russia with her demands. President Putin was even kind enough to present a large etching to PM Merkel to show he wants to remain on good terms with Germany.

Still, I hope the Germans accept some things are lost for them because of their past stupidity unless it is returned voluntarily. Germany should accept art stolen by other countries after WWI and WWII is debt paid to those countries for the death of so many people and for the loss of art in those countries because of the war. In addition, The stolen German art also shows German art in the countries that removed the art. And art can soften pain when it shows even Germans can produce beautiful things and not only wars. But as the above demonstrates, art can also cause tensions. By accepting this, they may gain much such as respect.


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