Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to
the Center for European and Russian Studies.
My name is Laurie Kain Hart and I'm
Professor of Anthropology and Global Studies,
and Director of the Center for European and
Russian Studies. I would like first of all
to thank our co-host for today's presentation,
the Center for Near Eastern Studies,
and also to thank our Center's Executive Director
Liana Grancea, and our Outreach Director Lenka
Unge for their work on today's event, and so
much else. As is our custom here at UCLA,
I would like to acknowledge that we are
here on the territory of the Gabrielino/Tongva peoples,
who are the traditional land caretakers
of Tovaangar - the Los Angeles basin
and the South Channel Islands. As a land grant
institution, we pay our respects to the Ancestors,
Elders, and Relatives and Relations past, present,
and emerging. Today, I am really happy to welcome
my colleague and friend, professor Susan
Slyomovics. Professor Slyomovics is a scholar
I have admired for decades before I knew her. When
I began to make her acquaintance, and to hear her
speak, and when I became her colleague here at
UCLA, I was all the more happy to be able to
hear and see her more frequently. She is a
phenomenal and multi-talented scholar. We're
really lucky to have her speaking to us today.
She is Distinguished Professor in the Departments
of Anthropology, and Near Eastern Languages and
Cultures at the University of California in
Los Angeles. Her research interests span
many disciplines and many field areas,
but focus on the Middle East and North Africa,
and are largely concerned with reparations,
truth commissions, economic anthropology,
human rights, visual anthropology,
preservation, and heritage, and of course also
literature in all of its many manifestations.
Her most recent book, co-edited with Lorenzo
Verancini, is “Race, Place, Trace:
Essays in Honour of Patrick Wolfe”, and that's out
from Verso in 2022. And this forms part of her
larger corpus on colonialism, and post-colonialism,
and settler colonialism. Her other publications
include “The Merchant of Art: An Egyptian
Hilali Oral Epic Poet in Performance” from 1988,
and then going forward “The Object of Memory:
Arab and Jew Narrate the Palestinian Village”,
“The Walled Arab City in Literature, Architecture,
and History”, “The Living Medina in the Maghrib”,
“The Performance of Human Rights in Morocco”,
“Clifford Geertz in Morocco”, and “How to Accept
German Reparations”. So I'll have to stop there in
terms of her publications, or if I begin to list
the rest of them, we will be here all day.
And instead it would be good to hear from
the scholar herself today. A quick reminder for
the audience: Please write your questions in the
Q&A box at any time during the discussion. I'll be
able to see them and so will professor Slyomovics.
We will respond to them during the Q&A, so
write them anytime in the Q&A box. Please don't
use the chat box, but the Q&A box. The talk
will be recorded for viewing afterwards via
Facebook and the website, so with that I will
turn the podium over to professor Slyomovics
for today's presentation. Thank you, professor
Hart. Pleasure to have you across the hall.
And thank you for this invitation. And thanks also
to the Center for European and Russian Studies,
and the Center for Near Eastern Studies at UCLA.
So on November 28, 2017 - it's kind of blurred
there, but it took place - President Emmanuel
Macron visited the University of Ouagadougou
in the capital of Burkina Faso. He delivered
a speech on potential returns of artifacts
looted from sub-Saharan Africa by French imperial
forces. I sort of outlined that in red -
he said that it is important to "do
everything to ensure that they come back".
So Macron's proffered restitution in this quote
is provisional. This process of 2017
relies on reversing accountability for France's
looted artifacts to Africans, who have to prove
their capacity to care for the return of their own
pillaged belongings residing in French museums.
In response, critic Ariella Aïsha Azoulay
points to the myriad enduring ways
that this proves that imperialism can
neither be unlearned or adjudged, when using
imperialist tools of French museum
standards that erase an object's provenance,
the circumstances surrounding colonial-era
extraction and expropriation of goods.
So Azoulay, on behalf of documenting imperial war
booty housed in European collections - for example
tens of thousands of objects held by the
Quai Branly Museum in Paris - she proposes that
plunder is never a concluded event, it is never
incidental to the lives of the objects and people
who are implicated in looting - this is for looters
and looted alike - but it is an ongoing
process that should entail different items. So
in other words, following on Azoulay, what is this
legacy of artifacts from French colonial overseas
expeditions currently in French museums through
this dialectic of presence and absence from the
formerly colonized? So as if responding to Azoulay -
sorry, it's blurred again - a report was commissioned
by President Emmanuel Macron from historian
Benjamin Stora. It was issued in January 2021. It
seeks to institute commissions and commission
institutions about Algerian artifacts in
France. So commissions investigate, they
document, they propose, sometimes they
effect change, and they have a history.
So before going on to the Stora Report of 2021,
on the subject of Algerian colonial afterlives
of artifacts in France, there was another report
that preceded Stora's and it's called the
"Sarr-Savoy Report" of 2018 authored by
Bénédicte Savoy, Felwine Sarr - French and Senegalese
academics respectively. And it followed directly
on my first slide of the promise of restitution
pronounced in Burkina Faso. So other
European nations, such as Germany,
the Netherlands, and Belgium have followed through
in 2020-2021. And all of these countries agree -
outside of France - that the clearest case for
restitution were objects deemed spoils of war
that resulted from punitive imperial military
expeditions. In fact, the Sarr-Savoy Report very
clearly recommended that requests for restitution
concerning objects seized in military context be
the most favorably received, despite the legal
status of military trophies before the adoption
of the 1899 Hague Convention codifying laws of
war. But the thrust of all of these commissions
was further commissions, institutional
procedures, and documentation of imperial loot
in French museums. So the Sarr-Savoy Report focused
on sub-Saharan Africa - meaning not the Maghreb -
calculating from approximately 90,000 objects removed
to France. 70,000 are in the Quai Branly - Jacques Chirac
in Paris, which was inaugurated in 2006.
These numbers exemplify what anthropologists
Arjun Appadurai has observed - that you need the
two together: exoticization and the numeration.
Those are a single colonial project. So following
Appadurai, the quantification of colonial violence
visited on exotic objects endures in all of
these reports. And two key concepts are used to
assess imperial artifact removals on behalf
of a potential return. How do you tabulate plunder?
How do you determine provenance? So what does
tabulation mean? It means you have to identify
spoils of war, you have to identify restitution
claims addressed to the plundering nations,
numerical visibility is extremely important. On
top of that, the Sarr-Savoy Report mentions that
less than 1,000 of the 70,000 objects are actually
publicly exhibited at any one time in the Quai
Branly Museum. Most are in storage, which could
be defined as hoarding in a place of containment
for colonial violence. They are long-hidden from
public view, and they are 90% of African heritage
housed outside the African continent in major
world museums. The second part of what they ask for
after enumeration is provenance. And again that's
restricted to documenting and authenticating
artworks according to origins, but that too of
course is a problem because it's hidden through
multiple chains of transfer - you have the military
officer, the scholar, the priest, the tourist, the
trader - they all share this responsibility for
artistic removals between France
and Algeria. The other thing of course is
anthropology's role - ethnographic museums,
Marcel Griaule's famous two-year Dakar-Djibouti
collecting expedition, Christian missionary
acquisitions, private settler and merchant
collectors - all of this is characterized by
widespread practices of pillage. So this nexus
of enumeration, tabulation, provenance is found
in the report which lists the staggeringly massive
scale of material dispossession from sub-Saharan
Africa, in what often amounts
to a dynamic of appropriation that
Sarr-Savory claim is still poorly understood. So what
are solutions to undo colonial plunder? This led
them to object repatriation and they called it
important because it restores a concealed memory.
In sum, I suppose, the Sarr-Savoy Report proposes
selective, not total object restitutions as a means
to reconstruct stolen memory for France's formerly
colonized populations. Now, there are direct
outcomes of the Sarr-Savoy 2018 Report. So
the most famous, of course, is 128 years after
France looted the Kingdom of Dahomey and official
Senegalese requests for restoration were first
launched in 1994. So here you see one example
of a restoration, which originally was a loan.
Sorry, I went ahead too fast there. In 2020,
the French Senate approved the bill to restitute
but the Benin Bronzes are a flashpoint
for African debates on European museum restitution.
And they transformed the loan of the sabre of
Hadj Omar Tall from the Army Museum in Paris, and
it's now a permanent return to Senegal.
Now, this 2020 Senate bill - French Senate
bill - is exceptional. It's a case-specific
legal moment and it was publicly advertised that
way. So otherwise it becomes a problem, because
collections and archives in France - public, not private
ones - doesn't matter what their provenance is, are
what's called "inalienable". They are absolutely
non-transferable even if the possessor agrees
on a return. And what this means and
what's been happening is that each new item
slated for restitution requires a lengthy process
to pass new subject, new object-specific laws. And
since 2020, France's Minister
of Culture Roselyne Bachelot
gave a speech saying that Quai Branly and Army
museums should be lauded for preserving
and exhibiting the Benin Bronzes and Senegal's
sword to the public. I'm just going to quote her.
It's really kind of interesting. She says in
one of these Élysée forums that are online: "It is
not a question of repentance or reparation, but an
act of friendship". Besides diminishing hopes for a
legal recurrence of object or archive
restitution, this statement - that these are acts of
friendship - actually foreclosed of course
repentance/reparation terminologies, even the normalized
state-to-state diplomatic languages of scripted
contrition, apologies, and acknowledgements. In many
ways, Bachelot's wording is very close to the Évian
Accords of 1961 - these documents that regulated
the end of the Algerian War of Independence
after a 7-year brutal war of decolonization.
So there is a pattern of disavowal that
promoted amnesties and barred acknowledging
these so-called infractions committed while
maintaining order in the Algerian colony.
And this is part of the history of amnesties
after the Algerian War, which are institutional
amnesia vital to pillage and spoliating. Official
French pronouncements to Algeria are formulaic,
limited, they are belated
speech acts of acknowledgement,
they are rarely what anybody
would call a repentance.
They are rarely a repentant request
for a pardon. There's actually an online
site that tracks political apologies and
if you look under France's apologies to Algeria,
there are very few occasions. So in 2003 - here
we have another blurred slide of Jacques Chirac
giving a speech to the Algerian Parliament, handshakes
with two senators, Zohra Drif and Saadi Yacef,
both former political prisoners in France, and
of course the Battle of Algiers -
heroic figures of that 1957 battle. Another one is
when the French diplomatic corps - this is in 2005 -
they regretted the inexcusable tragedy of
the Sétif massacres of 1945 on May the 8th.
The commemoration was two days ago. Very
differently commemorated in France and Algeria.
French forces along with settler allies killed an
estimated 8,000 Algerians in military collective
punishment operations after victory in Europe.
Marches by combat veterans from Algeria who had
served in France turned into an anti-colonial
uprising. There's more. In 2012,
François Hollande admitted France's profoundly unjust
and brutal colonial rule, but again no apologies.
Macron himself is added to this small
list about apologies, mainly directed
to residents in France. So in 2021, he asked
forgiveness within the framework of colonial
deeds for France's abandonment of the Harkis - this
is some 200,000 Algerian Muslim soldiers, those are
the colonial terms - who fought on the French
side during the Algerian War of Independence.
Then again in 2021, he placed a wreath, observed a
minute of silence on the Paris Bridge in memory
of Algerian victims of police brutality drowned
in the Seine River during a protest held in 1961
during the war years in support of the
FLN. And Macron laid the blame on then-Paris
police chief Maurice Papon, who
has already been tried and convicted.
So in contrast to all of these efforts on behalf of
sub-Saharan - below Maghreb - African artifacts,
Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia
are treated separately. And the Sarr-Savoy
Report rules out any consideration of
Algeria and Egypt in a single footnote,
acknowledging though that there are long-standing
claims to restituting Algerian archives.
So certainly on the African continent, the case of
Algeria has been part of intensive negotiations
since 1962. And there have been movements of
restitution after small independence, and also
in the case of Egypt. Now, these are considered
to be very different contexts of appropriation
and demanding different legislative
outcomes than sub-Saharan Africa.
So the Sarr-Savoy Report does allude to diplomatic
exchanges, but these are gifts, objects that flow
from the French head of state since Algerian
independence. So you have the return of - this is
under Macron in 2020 - 24 skulls of 19th century
Algerian resistance fighters, their body parts
to the Musée de l'Homme, the anthropology museum, for
the scientific study of human remains as a result
of decapitation and shipment. So as yet, unlike
the Sarr-Savoy Report which has been an attempt
to provide an overview, there is no overview of
Algerian artifacts, manuscripts, weaponry, objects,
and archives held by the French
state, and of course even less information on the
provenance of Algerian materials in non-state
hands. And there's a great deal of that, too.
So instead, Macron commissioned a report from
Benjamin Stora. I can say one conclusion:
The Stora Report is not the Sarr-Savoy Report. It
came out in January 2021. It departs from the
exactitudes of the Sarr-Savoy Report. There
are no artifact inventories, and it is about
affective reconciliation of memory between France
and Algeria. And of course, there was a huge amount
of responses from the two countries, but
my presentation is actually singlin out
one of the Stora Report proposals for what
he terms memorial reconciliation.
So this is specifically the example of an Ottoman
cannon named "Baba Merzoug" in Algeria, "La Consulaire"
in France, and it is uncontestably military
spoils, which is defined as the seizure of weapons
from defeated enemies for the purpose of a
public triumphal exhibition. So just add to
the mess on this discussion, Macron - and this
started another huge argument - he characterized
Ottoman Algeria or pre-colonial French Algeria
as Turkey. And he claimed it to be a comparable precursor
to colonization. The Ottomans were, in
his view, no different from the French
occupation. This is a map of the Ottoman
Empire. So the Latin word "spolium"
actually means an animal skin. It's a
pelt that's been flayed from a dead creature,
and the word evolved to denote stripping
weapons from a defeated enemy, robbing a
person, plundering a place. And this has been,
you know, from antiquity to the present. It
encompasses all sorts of things: importation,
material research, reuse, purposeful artistic
re-installation. And imperial looting certainly
existed in ancient times. And Napoleon Bonaparte,
whom you saw in the previous slide, systematized
state art confiscations, because he himself
relied on a commission - the 1794 Commission that
followed Napoleon's peace treaties that were
imposed on defeated regions by his army.
Napoleon was an innovator, because he included
artworks in his list of requisitioned objects.
And he legally formalized French pillage,
securing enormous transfers to what was the
recently created Louvre Museum, formerly the palace
of French monarchs, which was transformed
during the Revolution. So the Louvre since 1793 -
the French Revolution - has always been linked
to spolia since its founding. It was the main
repository for looted artifacts from church
properties, or from French disgraced aristocrats.
So you have a foundational royal collection,
that became enhanced by revolutionary pillage,
and then by Napoleon beyond France's border.
Now, Napoleon's art confiscations were only
halted when he was defeated. And this is
the Congress of Vienna treaties of 1850,
which is one of the first that we have in France
that mandates the return, or partial return,
of what Napoleon and his armies pillaged. So
the Latin etymology of spolia returns to the
notion of forcibly captive materials. This is
embodied in an intentionally plundered Ottoman
weapon purposely reconfigured into a French
colonial war memorial. In fact, this particular
military monument is different from other
typical war memorials - in French "monuments aux morts" -
that are all over the French landscape. And French
historian Antoine Prost classifies these war
memorials, many in the shape of a simple column, as
"lieux de mémoire" - that paradigmatic site of memorial
heritage that is intermediary between
the living and the dead. So in this case, spolia
became consecrated as a site of memory for both
conquest of Algeria, and the war dead. So you have
a naval war memorial in Brest. It was once called
Baba Merzoug. This is its Algerian Arabic name.
from the 16th century until the French conquest
in 1830. By all accounts, it was locally fabricated,
supposedly, not supposedly, but actually, I believe,
or historically is assumed, at the command
of Hassan Agha, khalifa of the Algiers Regency.
It is thought to have been the work of a Venetian
cannon-maker and it had a range of three
miles, which it aimed at invading vessels. And it
made Algiers and its Ottoman fortifications into a
powerful military, architectural, and cultural
assemblage. Algiers was "al-mahrusa", the well-protected -
It was re-baptized. Now, here's where this slide
comes into play. There were two French consular
officials. One was Jean Le Vacher, a vicar sent by
the order to minister to enslaved Christians
in the Barbary States, and there was also a
second - André Piolle, a businessman. Both were executed
in this fashion that you see before you, but Le Vacher
captured the European imagination. So this is a
widely reproduced lithograph by a Dutch engraver
and he's depicting the exact violent moment, when
Le Vacher was tied to the front of the cannon and blasted
to pieces, his body and human cannonball
aimed at the French navy, then circling
the bay of Algiers. And the story that's told -
there's lots of hagiographies - is that he professed
his Christian fate and he refused the possibility
of life through conversion. Now, this was of course
the fear of the French military
forces fighting the Barbary Coast -
this terror at forced mass conversion to Islam. So
what you see here is a shrieking hapless consul.
It's kind of the focal point of
the lithograph. He's balanced by the
towering figure of an imagined, beturbaned
Ottoman ruler gesturing furiously: Execute!
So July 5th, 1830, the date France
invaded Algiers, 1,500 cannons were seized.
Some were installed in the Army Museum in Paris.
Quite a few were melted down. They fashioned,
one of them in particular, the bronze
equestrian statue of the Duke of Orleans, and
that was installed in the Central Square of
Algiers. So you melt, you recreate. It's triumphal.
So the cannon was transported to Brest. That's
France's second military port after Toulon.
It's the home to the French Naval Academy. It's
still there. Its removal to Brest was at the
behest of the Admiral Guy Duperré. And he
wrote a letter, which we have available online. And
he said, I'm quoting or translating (my translation):
"As admiral commanding the naval army,
I dare to claim in the monarch's name, this trophy
of the French navy. As maritime prefect of Brest,
I ask for more, that the donation be made to this
port, whose ships played such a large part in the
Algiers campaign. It is the share of the prize to
which the army attaches the greatest value." So this
speech is actually part of the proof that this is
military spolia. So you have a kind of
systematic violent nature, which encompasses the
ritual character of looting trophies. You send
a message to the victims, to the
perpetrators, and even to more distant
audiences. It's almost as if you have a kind of
stream of consciousness in the French colonial
mind. So another written justification was by
a French military officer. And these are really
important for possible restitution. His name was
Auguste Préaux. He was a witness to the capture and
re-installation of Baba Merzoug as La Consulaire. And his
description is even more emotionally intense
about what it means to put a recognizable
Ottoman cannon by 1833, three years later,
into the port of Brest, and how it
became a vertical French war memorial.
It's very clear that the issue is revenge for Préaux.
And he writes: "The observer is struck by the sight
of this beautiful object of a cannon, opposite the
flags of port control, near the administration."
He says: "How many memories it recalls! It is a
trophy of glory for the armies of land and sea.
It was from Brest that the vessels
left - that supplemented the naval
forces to which the conquest owed -
it is the port that should obtain this
award. And it is attached to the locality of Brest."
Then he writes: "As for me, I circle the pedestal
on which La Consulaire, the consular, to rekindle
my ideas of the glorious memories of a campaign,
where 27,000 sailors, 37,000 soldiers were
handed over to the devastating possibilities
of the elements, the climate and war." So
you have an entanglement of conquerors' emotions,
expressions of imperial power that amplify
this structure described by Préaux, which is a
war monument, is implacably solid when placed
in the naval compound of buildings, the arsenal,
there's a hospital, and a port. So you have
these emotions that are mapped onto the cult
of war memorials already in place
in village and urban centers.
So to loot and to memorialize looting at an actual
site of memory required textual justification,
but it also required these new French art
inscriptions for the cannon's impediment. So
there is this ferocity of feeling that
brought and still keeps it in Brest despite
a variety of Algerian entities that have made
claims for restitution. For Préaux, for the navy,
it is considered a trophy of glory, which are
words that can bite them back as military spolia.
The name change from "Baba Merzoug" to
"La Consulaire" can stand for, in some ways, all the
renaming of Algerian towns, streets, even individual
people's names during the French occupation.
Préaux goes on to describe the inscriptions,
the release that serve as explanatory texts,
museum-like labels to provide new context for the
implantation in France. So two of the four sections
retrace the attributes of, this is Préaux
describing it. There's Neptune and Bellona.
There's another relief - that's the one we're
looking at here. It depicts the seated, bare-breasted
black woman. In Préaux's words, it represents
Africa delivered, animated, enlightened
by the blessings of French civilization at the
hands of a crowned, fully dressed male personage
surrounded by radiating civilizing sun's rays.
So the main inscription reframes
provenance by focusing on conquest and emplacement.
There are no competing historical sources.
I don't know why everything's blurred. This
is terrible. When the Algerian Ottoman cannon
became a French war memorial column, it's also a
phallic sculpture. According to Henri
Lefebvre: "A rampant, erect verticality produces
psycho-sexual spaces that symbolize force, male
fertility, masculine violence. Phallic brutality
is not abstract," he writes. "It's the brutality
of political power, constraint police, army and
bureaucracy." So there is a long history
in imperial conquest of removing many more phallic
sculptural pieces for metropolitan urban displays.
So you have Italy looting the Ethiopian
Axum obelisk in 1937, which it returned in
obelisks found in European city squares,
and even though Napoleon's ill-fated,
brief expedition to Egypt went awry,
that didn't stop the French
engineer Apollinaire Lebas
from undertaking this incredible feat
of transporting this obelisk
to Paris, where it was installed in 1836. And it's
part, of course, of Napoleon's two-decade era of art
pillages throughout Egypt, throughout Europe also.
In Egypt even though there was a failed French
occupation there. Lebas actually gave a
reason for why he removed the obelisk, the engineer.
He said that there was a competition
for sculptural acquisitions to embellish
Paris. And of course what's
always added is to safeguard the monument.
Of course it deteriorated during this removal
and it was badly damaged, but there you go.
So this monument was really important because for
Napoleon, for Lebas, it belonged to the French nation
to match the Roman power, which enhanced its glory
through taking pharaonic obelisks. And Lebas said: "Rome's
streets and squares have obelisks and columns
thanks to caesars, popes. Now, Paris has one, too."
So what became of this column, La Consulaire?
On my right - it's topped
by this ubiquitous "le coq gallois", Gallic rooster,
crowing at the summit, while a globe rests beneath its claw.
So I'm saying that La Consulaire evokes similar
phallic imagery found in many other French war
memorials. We have the column, the cock, and
the globe, ritually mourning the dead killed
in battle far from France. And of course there's
a fair amount written about this French crowing cock.
It's supposed to possess mythic
iconographic origins. If you look up online
what it's supposed to be, it's related to François I,
and the heroic French past, which is recast
visually and textually to the Algerian cannon,
which is tamed, tagged, upended, and appropriated
into something beyond mere war booty.
And it's weighted with symbolism. It is
the focus of military commemorations of the 1830
conquest. Obviously, it is never the 1962 defeat
of the French at the hands of the Algerians.
Now, historian Todd Shepard has written really
interesting material on obsessions
with the loss of French Algeria.
And he talks about how there are projections
through the prism of pervasive sexualized
discourses about the violent hypervirility
of the North African Arab man,
which perhaps, following Shepard, might account
for the ways in which fraught Franco-Algerian
relations found an admirable match-up
in this typology of a defanged, castrated
Maghrebi phallic weapon made to look like the
familiar European phallic "monument aux morts", war memorial.
Now, erecting columns was part of the military
exercises during the French occupation of Algeria.
General Rubeaud set up a 56-foot tall
memorial column in cut stones at Beni Mered
both to honor the sacrifice of one sergeant,
Blandan - he was the emblematic lowly foot-soldier
valorized in the accounts of France's conquest
of Algeria - and of course, to stamp former native
Algerian lands with a marker, because this became
the center for a settler agricultural village.
Here's another one. Another example. This is the marble "colonne Randon". It was set up in 1842
as a commemorative stele. This was to mark
the route from Annaba, which was then Bône,
into the Kabylia forests. So of
course, it was erected by General Randon,
and he was later the Governor General of Algeria.
And this column represented the incremental
expansion of French territorial conquests through
military-sponsored projects of infrastructure, like
building a road through the forests, and
the destruction of the forests of Kabylia.
I saw this 14-foot Randon column in the
French Foreign Legion Museum in Southern
France in Aubagne. It's behind a protective
glass. It's part of a very strange exhibit,
in which an Algerian column is flanked by cannons,
but these are cannons from French Indochina
or Vietnam. So you have this incontestably
phallic constellation of objects on display,
and of course there's no museum text that
tells you about the provenance, or the transfer.
So there are documents from the 1970 UNESCO
Convention that mandate the return of these
kinds of illegally acquired objects, but at the
same time that all of this is going on, French
state commissions are actually still trying to
comply with World War II restitution of Nazi-era
loot. And there is in 2008 a new commission to
restitute stolen property of French Jewry
under Vichy rule, most of which were housed
in the French national museum and library systems.
So back to the Stora Report and a kind
of conclusion based on Frantz Fanon.
So the Stora Report is very modest. All it asks
for is a Franco-Algerian commission of historians
responsible for determining the history of the
cannon, whether you call it Baba Merzoug or La
Consulaire. This commission is to share proposal
for its future. And here I'm quoting Stora.
While maintaining a respectful consideration
for the memorial burden it carries on both
sides of the Mediterranean, the Stora Report
does not discuss restitution, it doesn't deal
with any of the solutions applied elsewhere,
either in the Sarr-Savoy Report or anything
else, like new exhibitions, explanatory signage,
anything that's done in critical museum studies.
So even the thought of a 3D high-quality
replica is of course rejected - the point is to
actually, you know, physically have the artifact
and 3D technology is very costly - so other
possibilities are mentioned there: cooperative
agreements for extended loans, long-term leases,
rental markets, facsimiles... The source of Sarr-Savoy
Report gives you lots of possible solutions, but
the Stora Report does not. It merely mirrors the
unequal power relations whenever the commission
uses the vocabulary, a weaker vocabulary of
memory studies, in which you talk about
mutual consultations, another cycle of instituting
commissions to commission institutions.
So a kind of conclusion would be for the moment:
France and its military hold fast to Baba Merzoug-La Consulaire.
What the Stora Report does minimally, you know
if I'm looking for that, is that it proves that
historical reversals can be discussed,
but the fixity of La Consulaire
in Brest proves that restitution for looted
material objects is not easily reversible.
So Frantz Fanon's epigraph is apt here. He assumes
that reconciliation is deployed by the former
colonizer to calm down the natives of Algeria.
It may be that these authorized commissions
do the same labor for Macron's state and museum
elites. The Stora Report is enmeshed in
restituting, even though it doesn't quite mention
that word really, but the Sarr-Savoy Report
does talk about restituting a small amount
of what France determines as indigenous,
authentic African artifacts, but so far that
status is denied to the Algiers Ottoman cannon.
So I'm done! I'll stop sharing. Let's see if I can do
this. Thank you! Thank you so much, professor Slyomovics.
We have a couple of questions to start out with, so
I'll start with the guest questions. Ceren Abi,
I think I'm probably pronouncing that wrong.
I think there is a lot of curiosity about the
apology website and the nature of these apologies, so
so a technical question: What is the website that
tracks apologies? And maybe if I could broaden that
out and simply ask you to, you know, say more about
the circumlocutions of these apologies, or
the way in which for example do you see
differences between not only the number of
apologies France may or may not have offered
compared to other European countries for example,
but also in the quality, and nature, and rhetoric
of those apologies. I'm just curious if you have
more to say on that. Thank you! Hi, Ceren!
Ceren graduated from UCLA and works on these issues
of cultural heritage, apologies, restitution in
Turkey, especially when it was colonized by all the
Great Powers when the Ottoman Empire fell, right?
Wonderful dissertation articles. So the website
is the Institute of Human Rights.
They list all of the apologies, and you can go
country by country. So I looked at all the ones
between France and Algeria, and I don't have it
here with me. I just found out this morning that
this article is going to be published. It's been
accepted at the Journal of Modern and Contemporary
France - a special issue on the 60th anniversary
of Algeria's independence - with a bunch of other
articles, including more on the Stora Report, so
it's in the footnotes, but I'll certainly send it
to you. Oh Lord, that caused a huge amount of
writing on both sides of the Mediterranean. It is
kind of outrageous from the Algerian perspective
to imagine, at least in relation to French colonial
dispossession, that Ottoman rule in Algeria
is exactly structurally
the same as French colonial rule. There was a
wonderful response by historian Mohamed Oualdi,
who discussed all of the differences, the short
nearsightedness of it, and the fact that
Macron called Ottoman Algeria Turkey, which
is a country that was formed, you know, after
World War I and the fall of the Ottoman
Empire. So those kinds of comparisons are seen
as bad faith, bad scholarship, and the context
of it was, I believe Macron was speaking to
children, high school kids or college
kids, when he made that kind of comparison.
So it's an assault on the education
system, too. And the responses were many.
I'm wondering in the context of these recent
reports in France - again a kind of a comparative
question: Has the European Union made any
declarations or moves on kind of general practice
or ethics with reference to these objects? I mean
the particular subject of your talk is kind
of twofold. And maybe my question
needs to be split in terms of two things, but
because there are specifically the questions that
hover around these war monuments, and then those
are a subsection, or maybe not a subsection, maybe
a different section from the question of other
artifacts that are art objects, that are for
example in the Quai Branly, you know.
So I am wondering. I guess the first
question is: Are there any general EU or European
kind of statements or approaches to this? And the
second question really is a more specific one
on, you know, the specificity of the war monuments.
There's something about the tenacity,
as you describe it, of this particular monument
that is so tied to the question of the heroism
of war, or the claimed heroism of war, so
that's the second domain of questions.
Thank you, Laurie. Feel free to write in
French. I don't know if you can do it in Arabic,
but you can do the Q&A in any way you want.
It's more the United Nations that has done any
number of documents for it. There's the famous 1970
UNESCO Agreement, which clearly states restitution,
especially things that are taken by force. And
the Ottoman canon just struck me as the absolute,
perfect example. You can't get a better one. We have the documentation how it was
taken, why it was taken. It was clearly spoils of
war and plunder. Other things are harder to trace.
Provenance, you've got traitors, you have
missionaries, you have gifts, you have replicas that
are commissioned, so you know, actual artifacts are
hard but this one, there's simply no way to look
at it any other way. So you have the 1970 UNESCO
Agreements. Of course, if you want to really go
further back, I mentioned the 1815 Congress of
Vienna, where following the defeat of Napoleon,
the right of conquest and the right to plunder
under conquest is completely denied. Half of the
artifacts he stole, pillaged, or the army
took, had to be returned, but not all of them were.
At least half of them are still there. That's the
general understanding. Then really importantly, in
France and the United States are all signatories.
Then there's something called UNIDROIT.
U-N-I-D-R-O-I-T. It's an inter-governmental,
international, independent association. It gets
money from the United Nations and it was actually
set up in 1926 by the League of Nations in
order to, in some sense, harmonize and standardize
commercial law. And of course, the League of Nations
falls apart. So it was reestablished in 1946
after, of course, World War II. And all of this is
to harmonize international law across individual
nations, because artifacts are held in museums.
At least in Europe, unlike the United States,
the majority of them are not private. They
are national museums. So then you have the
state having to regulate it. Let's see.
In 2008, the other important
United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.
And there's the famous article 11 that states that
restitution has to be implemented if the artifact,
the artwork is taken violently and without consent.
But you know, these United
need to be supported by the state, and that's
not happening in France. It is happening
more in Germany, which has a long history of
restitution of Nazi-looted objects, and
a long history of paying reparations, so
it wasn't that hard to fit it into their
statutes, to add this colonial dispossession onto
everything else they did to Europeans during
World War II. The British are immovable. They
won't even restore the Benin Bronzes. The
French have given 26. Americans have given them.
The Smithsonian Institution just, I think three
weeks ago, passed a new policy. This is our national
museum, but we are outnumbered by private museums.
And they just passed a policy of
automatic restitution with
the minimal kinds of exchanges, that the French
demand of sub-Saharan Africa, let alone Algeria.
And the artifacts, if you want to look at it
comparatively, that the Algerians are demanding,
what they really want are their archives. And
that is much, much more forceful than the cannon.
The cannon is important, but the real fight is
over Algeria's archives, which were of course
brought to France. And you have to go to the
overseas archives in Aix-en-Provence - if you
have the money, the means, the visa - if you are
an Algerian, to get yourself there, and do the work.
That's an interesting question, because you would
think that with archives it would be easier,
presumably to arrange replication, which would make
them accessible to people, although obviously not
in their charismatic original. So you would
think the discussion would be slightly shifted
for such things, but no. It's extremely similar.
Well, you also have the framework. It's
extremely difficult to access French archives. They
keep changing the laws. The number of times I have
asked for archives, I use the military archives in Paris,
the Château de Vincennes, which has spoliated
artifacts, and in fact there was a depot for a lot
of these statues. And each time - I get it, it's
classified. And you don't know it till you go there,
and you ask for it, and your number is called up
on this big board, and you go there, and you get
a note saying it's classified. Then you have to
go through a system. I mean French historians have
also, everybody has complained. And it waxes and wanes
in accessibility, so you know that's the frame
of just using French archives. They're not well
computerized. And the recent computerization, as
far as I can see, of the colonial archives which I
was last in before COVID, made it worse. I could no
longer access it without having some archivist or
librarian next to me to tell me how to input all
of the access points, that are not obvious to you.
I could go on at great lengths about the French digital archives.
But the digitization is, first of all, it's expensive.
Who pays for it? You know, we're talking 600 tons
alone in X, huge numbers of them. Many of them
should not be there, because there was an agreement
to separate the archives, or at least an imposed
agreement, but you keep finding things there. I
find them badly catalogued, difficult to use. The
Head of the National Library in Algeria said: Sure,
we'll take the originals, you take the digitization.
A further question about French popular
reaction. The implication was in relationship
to Brest. That the French state is
claiming a strong - in significance of this
monument to the city, to someone, some constituency
in Brest, and to the constituency of France as a
whole. And I'm wondering about those two things.
One, is there a constituency in France as a whole,
or is this an obsession of the state, kind of
in its own self-conception? And also
is there a popular reaction, either pro or against,
such a monument in Brest? Is there, you know,
a radical left trying to take down, you
know, this cannon for its phallic and
its imperial resonances? And is there a contrary
defense of the phallic and imperial in Brest?
Well, it's kind of interesting. There was
a Breton priest, who seemed to launch the
request, at least in so far as we can tell
on the French side, who believes in restitution.
And he did this in 2005,
because that was the year
where it fortunately didn't go through, but French
schools were supposed to teach the positive side
of colonialism in the French schools. If you
remember, it was vetoed. But it
it roils the waters all over again. And a
French Breton priest said as a result of this 2005
possible law, we need to restitute the Baba
Merzoug to Algeria. So that's, you know, it's not a...
Let's just say there are different
possibilities. But I think what your question
points to, which is really I think fascinating
and interesting, and you ask the best questions, is
if you take a settler
colonial studies approach and
which my co-author Lorenzo Verancini wrote
about in a 2011 article on, I can't remember
the exact title, it had something like telling
the story, telling the ends of settler colonialism
story. And one of the things he believes and I've
come to believe too, is that the presence of former
European settlers from Algeria in France makes
it almost impossible to transform these over 60
years of claims, counter claims, justifications.
And he makes a general comparative point,
which I think is really powerful. And he
says: When decolonization takes the form
of a mass, a collective exodus of settlers -
it happened in Algeria, it happened in Kenya,
it happened in the Portuguese colonies of
Angola and Mozambique, it happened in Zimbabwe,
Namibia - that decolonization, that political
decolonization of territory is never matched
in any way whatsoever by an attempt to build
decolonized relationships. In fact, he goes even
further. He has this notion, which I love: A winner
takes all of the settler colonial frame of mind.
Settlers' sovereignties are going to rule, whether
they're in the colony, or when they go back to the
metropole. And what you have is, even with this
rupture, breakage, the fall of a settler colonial
regime, the fact of this mass departure of
settlers creates structures, creates circumstances
where there's no way you can imagine
a relationship between equal subjects.
That's a really powerful statement. And as you
say, it applies to many circumstances and gives
us a lot to think about what the possibilities of
real decolonization are. There's a further question
from Roii Ball. Thank you for the fascinating
talk, as always. These are really interesting
intersections with other issues that you are
working on regarding settler colonialism. I was
wondering how do you see these different kinds
of artifacts together within the context of
particularly settler post-colonialism. War
pillage objects of war in triumphal display -
even if the middle of a car park -
are here deformed, reformed, and displaced. They
could be very different from
museal objects of everyday life,
whose majority is hidden in museal storage.
And documents are indeed yet another kind of
object with the potential to include sources
for even more claims on the French state.
Thank you! It's a wonderful question and
Roii Ball is another UCLA PhD graduate.
Baba Merzoug - I'm going with the Algerian name,
you know, it doesn't look like one anymore - it belongs to
the Ministry of Defense. It doesn't belong to the
national museums of France, which have their own
ways of top-down ordering things. It's out there.
It's phallically out there, erectly out there, and
you can see it from anywhere in Brest. And the
Ministry of Defense did their own - what would
you call it, commission du patrimoine - heritage
commission for the navy and for all maritime
property. And they stated in their commission
report, this is in 1996: Under no circumstances
will they part with it. It is their patrimoine,
it is their heritage, it belongs to them.
So you can make claims of time. It's been there
since 1833. It was actually erected then even though
it was taken in 1830. There's time you can
make claims on memory, on meanings, on war memorial.
Whatever the claims that are made by sailors and
soldiers, are not the same claims that are made by
museum curators and museum people. In many
countries, for example I mentioned that Britain
will not give back the Benin Bronzes, but one of
the best books written about the British Museum is
called the Brutish Museum, where a curator in one
of these museums is pushing for the restitution
of all of it, or some of it, but any part of it,
which up to now the British don't agree to. So
it has to do with the power of a museum curator in
what I would call a pyramidal system in France.
Unlike here, it's a little bit more horizontal
because of the large amount of private museums, so
individual museums can make different choices.
And the Smithsonian has led the way three weeks
ago to make these kind of changes. And
this artifact, besides the fact that I like it -
it's beautiful. I like all the cannons
on the, you know, Admiralty
jetty of Algiers. I mean this is really imposing
stuff. But some of it is intentionally
bizarre - that something would go from here
to here, and I haven't added the other stuff.
I forgot what it's called. There's this knob
that you put at the other end of the cannon,
and it allows you to tie the cannon with a rope,
because there's is incredible blow-back every
time you shoot a cannonball. And these have become
artifacts that the French have created and added
them onto other cannons in Brest. And
in one of them, there's a head of a so-called "Turk",
so every time you're shooting off the canyon,
you're pulling at the head of the Turk. I mean
cannons in and of themselves, besides being phallic,
people name them, right? Their anthropomorphize
them. They become attached to them,
and they become symbols of sovereignty.
Just like the Egyptian government has
often asked for their obelisks back. It's
right there. How can you miss it? It's not
in storage somewhere. I wonder if you could
tell us a little bit more about the claim
on public space that such monuments make in,
you know, we've been talking about them
as artifacts and, you know, in a kind
of object-based way, but they are situated in
particular places. And I'm wondering is that part
of what constitutes this unwillingness to let them
go, let them leave? How significant are
the ritual and ceremonial activities that these
things anchor? And would they be similarly situated
on return? Would there be an equal
and opposite in some sense ritual emplacement
of those objects? Do you imagine in their return?
Well, the French did return 26 skulls of
Algerian resistance fighters decapitated, and that
was found by an anthropologist with help from,
inside help I'm assuming, at the museum. And the
ritual of return was extraordinary. They flew on
an Air Algeria flight, that sovereignty in the
air, there was a red carpet, each one of them was
in a casket even though all you had was the skull,
and there was a very moving ceremony where people
came to visit the closed caskets. You don't have
open caskets. And then there was a very ceremonial
burial of the 26 of them. They were named.
Each one of them was named and announced.
And it was, you know, I watched it. You know, this is
in the middle of COVID, and I found it quite moving.
So the rituals of return are rather
important, but in terms of the war memorial,
there's a kind of a training for the French in
terms of the war memorial. There are 36,000 of them
in France alone, that have been counted by
Antoine Prost and other historians in France. And they
have written about them in Pierre Nora's "Les Lieux
de Mémoire", typologies of them, rituals about them.
The fact that some of them are pretty cheesy, a
column ordered from a particular catalog, or some
of them are five very famous sculptures. It doesn't
seem to matter. They're always emplaced either in
cemetery, which people visit regularly, or in
the center of a small town, next to the church,
the town hall, the mairie, the gendarmerie. It's
part of the emplacement of a small-town village
that's been written about as lieux de mémoire. Now,
the interesting question for me, which I won't go
into, but this is what I'm much more interested in,
is what happened to the thousands of war memorials
in Algeria? What have the Algerians been doing with
this legacy? Because keep in mind that in World
War II, the Algerian colonial troops have been
considered to be almost half of the colonial army,
or half of the free French army. They were of
significant importance to the liberation of France.
I mean. Charles de Gaulle went to Brazzaville, then Algiers to
reconstitute in opposition to occupied France.
Same thing in World War I. Algerians are the
only ones who were conscripted, so many memorials,
war memorials in Algeria, will list all the
names. And some of them will list them separately,
the natives on one side, the settlers on the other.
Some of them will do it alphabetically. So that
doesn't seem to be the case of who remembers, and
who doesn't. But the most beautiful war memorial
of all in Algeria, as far as I'm concerned, is in
Constantine. And it has been preserved beautifully.
If there are no more audience
questions, then I'll just ask
Susan a final question, which is: Could you just
tell us where things are now? I mean it's been a
couple of years, so to speak, since the Report. Is
this a live issue for anyone in France? Do you anticipate
any new developments? I'm also wondering, in
answering that question, if you might tell us
about - was there dialogue between the, let me
get my names right, dialogue between the Sarr-Savoy
Report people and the report by the state?
I'm just wondering whether there was an actual
out-and-out debate, where they talked about the sort
of uselessness, so to speak, of the state report?
I don't see any overlap between the two. The
Sarr-Savoy in 2018, the Stora came out in February 2021.
And that's, you know, just a little over a year
ago. Perhaps it's COVID. There hasn't been that
much movement yet. There has been movement
for the sub-Saharan artifacts. The Sarr-Savoy
Report really was like a bomb going through the
museum world. And people are taking seriously,
beginning with things like the Benin Bronzes,
or the requests that have come from Senegal,
which are long-standing and even requests from
obviously other countries. The French were in
Korea, so were the British. They're manuscripts.
It's a worldwide phenomenon that the Sarr-Savoy
Report really launched. The Stora Report hasn't
seemed to have done anything. My understanding
is there are now what a dozen or two dozen
visas for Algerian scholars to go to France.
You know, that's what? Nothing. So
I don't see much movement yet,
but I'm hoping to get to Algeria, and see how
they're thinking about it. There seem to be some
constant battles, like over the... There were major
battles over the rehabilitation of the Casbah,
when the Algerian government hired a
French architect Jean Nouvel, who did
Pompidou Center, I think. And the Algerian
Architectural Association said, you know, we have
fantastic architects here, why are you getting
him, and paying him, and not paying us? So
Franco-Algerian, on a high level, sort of state-mandated
level of exchanges, it's going slowly.
Some of the restitutions that I've
seen, that Algeria has demanded
successfully, have gone through Interpol. And when
I was there, the FBI was helping them get back
archaeological remains, that had been stolen
from sites in Algeria, and are sitting in the
United States, Tunisia, other places like that. So
there's an Interpol website, where you can look
at the status, or you can upload something that's
missing. So I follow these websites all the time.
But no, it's hard to say. I
don't want to be pessimistic,
but you know, I'm sure there will
be more attempts. How about that?
Well, I'm semi-cheerful.
I want to thank you so much, professor Slyomovics,
for your wonderful lecture, and thank our audience
for their presence and participation,
and look forward to seeing you back at a
Center for European Russian Studies' talk soon. And
I'll leave it there for today. Thanks so much, Susan!