Like many powerful nations, France has a history patchworked with oppression. Wielding international might can be like owning a sword that is too heavy for you. In an effort to swing it for good we end up bashing the innocent and even ourselves. Never-the-less, in modern times powers like France have grown up considerably thanks to the continual growth of the national identity. Perhaps the occupation of Paris and most of North and Central France during WW2 helped to instil the other side of the story.
When French forces invaded Benin in Africa during the 1890s, they were met by an elite troop of female warriors. Known as the Amazons, this tribe of feminist icons have reached global fame. After a long and bloody battle, the military hardware of industrialised France overpowered the Amazon warriors and permitted the army to continue. The army took what they termed “The spoils of war” which is basically looting for private gain and to recuperate the cost of occupation. It's criminal activity. The French remained in power in Benin until 1959.
There are several treasures kept in French museums that were taken without consent from defeated nations around the world. Legislation is in place that protects many artefacts from being returned as each piece is recorded in lists of treasure that belong to the state. It means that one president or one philanthropist alone is powerless to force these items back home. However, after extensive talks with the nation of Benin, it is with great pleasure that the nation of France is able to return around thirty precious items. This move follows in suit from the repatriation of several Nigerian works taken around the same time.
Arguments against the move have included the fact that French resources allow the art to be cared for and kept secure to a much higher degree. This did not resonate with most though, as these ethics do not match those of the general population. It is hoped that French President Macron's willingness to talk and find legally binding solutions to the problem of ransacked treasures will provide the platform needed for other nations to make similar demands.
When the international image of leading nations is at stake, it is imperative that we all take the opportunity to add new and positive chapters to the story about us in other nations. None of us were alive during colonial times and we shouldn't harbour guilt or shame, however the anger resides for many simply because there hasn't been enough closure. The next section of the story has to go along the lines of “They said sorry, did everything they could to put things right, and never treated us badly again”. If the new generation can have their histories garnished with this final clause, perhaps their residual anger will not have a platform to grow on.
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