The Netherlands dedicates €0.5M to return art stolen by colonialists

the Benjarmasin Diamond
The 'Benjarmasin diamond´ belonged to the sultan of Benjarmasin (in modern-day Indonesia) but was looted by the Netherlands in 1859. It is now in the Rijksmuseum, which means it's qualified to be returned. Image: Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, CC0

Many countries have sizable collections of artifacts from former colonies. These artifacts were often originally stolen, and even if they were bought the ethics of these purchases are debatable. Now, the Dutch government is dedicating 0,5 million euro per year to a committee that will oversee requests to return stolen art.

A new policy

The Netherlands is not returning all artifacts to its former colonies (Indonesia, Suriname and the Dutch Caribbean) at once. Rather, the countries have to request the return of these objects, and the objects have to fall under state property. When it is clear that the art was stolen, it will be returned unconditionally. There are two cases where the artifacts can be returned, but other parties’ (like museums) interests will be considered as well: when the art wasn’t originally stolen but holds significance for its country of origin, or when the Netherlands wasn’t the colonial power that stole it. In any case, Dutch culture minister Ingrid van Engelshoven has stated that ‘correcting injustices’ should be a primary goal.

What’s next?

Because countries have to request the objects themselves, the Netherlands are not returning every stolen items at once. Still, this policy is a notable step towards people getting back access to items that have been gone from their country for a long time. The directors of the Rijksmuseum and the Tropenmuseum, a museum of ethnography, have stated that they have started researching the origins of their collections. We will have to wait and see which artifacts will be returned and which other European countries will take similar action.

Source: Artnet (English), The Guardian (English), (Dutch), official Dutch government website (Dutch)

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