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The discovery in Munich of artefacts stolen by the Nazis has prompted examination of the origins of exotic items in our museums in Ireland.
The ‘Dying Buddha’, in the National Museum, was robbed from a Buddhist temple, during a raid in Burma by Colonel Sir Charles Fitzgerald in the 1880s, when Ireland was part of the British Empire. This looting of ‘defeated’ peoples was commonplace in the empire.
Ireland’s high standing in the UN and in the ‘non-aligned’ world derives from its resistance to colonialism. Many ‘third world’ leaders, from India, Africa and elsewhere, have cited Ireland’s War of Independence as a massive stimulus to their own anti-colonial struggles.
It might, therefore, be a fitting gesture if an Irish government were to direct its museums and galleries to repatriate stolen treasures.
More importantly, such a gesture would put pressure on London, Paris, Berlin, and other former imperial capitals, and help bring to a close one of the more visible, and shameful, reminders of Europe’s colonial past.
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