As Karl Marx once determined, history will always inevitably reflect a clash between those that have and those that do not. It has been seen countless times that nations have formed empires whose foundation lies in the work of others that do not get to reap the benefits of the work they have done. Many of the nations that are being represented in this conference are guilty of oppression and theft of not only cultural artifacts but also the lives of the people who have been exploited by the formerly colonial European countries.
Firstly, what can be classified as a reparation? In its most basic form, reparations are a tool used to make amends with groups of people or even entire countries that have been wronged in the past. As stated by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in their Reparation Programme, reparations consist of five key principles:
- Restitution - restores the victim to the situation they were in before being harmed
- Compensation - provides the victim with opportunities and financial compensation as a result of the harm they were subject to
- Rehabilitation - provides the victim with medical and psychological care and social and legal services
- Satisfaction - ensures the victims are apologized to for the harm inflicted on them, and given space to mourn and recover from their losses
- Guarantees of non-repetition - ensure reforms of military and security forces and the protection of human rights workers
In order to give back to these minorities, the practice of reparations has recently been adopted by many nations. One of these examples is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) whose “founding vision was born in response to a world war that was marked by racist and anti-Semitic violence.”
How Has Germany Confronted its Past?
“Germany is extremely against systemic oppression. After the events of World War II, Germany has accepted full blame and pondered its mistakes. It wants to make the world a better place for people regardless of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, income, or social status. Because of that, Germany is not against reparations in its Basic Law or its Constitution, since it would help integrate minorities into society.”
- Delegate of Germany
The Holocaust, one of the darkest chapters in world history, hangs over the heads of the millions of German citizens that are alive today. It was one of the most well-documented genocides to this day, where 11 million Jews, Roma, homosexuals, and other marginalized groups lost their lives under the Nazi regime. It is an undeniable fact that Germany has a substantial burden weighing down on it from this shameful past, which begs the question of how it can recover from this and not only ensure that it doesn’t happen again but also that the survivors of this humanitarian tragedy are rightfully compensated and remembered.
Some of the measures adopted were:
- Building memorials (Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe - the image above)
- Legislation that makes it illegal to deny the Holocaust or display Nazi symbols
- Education in schools about Germany's role in past events
- Welcoming immigrants into the country
- Identifying and locating looted artworks and artifacts
- Affirmative action through the use of quotas
Most importantly, reparations must not only be “in doctrine, but also in practice,” emphasizing the need for these to be put into action in order for minorities to be able to realistically benefit from them. For this to happen, global superpowers and other nations who hold a position of high power and influence must set the example and be willing to let go of what is not theirs.
Cultural Heritage and Artifacts
Art and artifacts are crucial parts of a country’s identity and heritage. Throughout its years of conquest, colonial Europe has looted and stolen a countless amount of art pieces and artifacts, ranging from jewelry and statues to historic and religious texts.
While it is true that the looting of artifacts and art had temporarily halted in the 20th century, it restarted during both World War I and II, where thousands of artworks and artifacts were stolen. According to the Washington Post, more than 600,000 paintings were stolen from the Jews, 100,000 of which are still missing.
As reported by The Guardian, more than 1,000,000 Italian artifacts remain missing today. Greece, being one of the most prominent historic sites in Europe, has suffered immensely from looting - according to the Smithsonian Magazine. In November 2019, 350 police officers worked to recover 10,000 ancient Greek and Roman artifacts stolen from archaeological sites.
Due to all of these events, a number of international and national laws and associations were created, some of which include: UNESCO, the World Heritage Center, and the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM). ICCROM is an “intergovernmental organization dedicated to the preservation of cultural heritage worldwide through training, information, research, cooperation, and advocacy programs.” Due to these organizations, a number of artifacts and priceless artworks were returned to their country of origin. If you would like to learn more about specific recovered artifacts, check out this link: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/culture/themes/illicit-trafficking-of-cultural-property/other-cases-of-return-or-restitution-of-cultural-objects/.
Are We Responsible for the Past?
As participants in a Model United Nations conference, we must consider: to what extent are we responsible for the history of our nations? While our power as young people may be limited, it is important for us to acknowledge whether we are in a position where we benefit from the past or suffer from it, and to ensure that the past is remedied for, even if it’s through small gestures such as engaging with current issues or encouraging a more diverse and open-minded perspective. At the end of the day, we may not have made the same choices as our ancestors, but we are affected by them from the moment of our birth. Therefore, our generation shares the responsibility of dismantling the negative consequences of the past, in the present.