Austria takes the first step to return objects from the colonial era


Austria plans to set up a panel to assess claims for restitution of objects acquired during colonial times and hopes to provide details “in the coming weeks,” a spokesperson for the Ministry of Culture said.

The largest collections of colonial-era acquisitions in Austria can be found in the Weltmuseum (World Museum) and the Natural History Museum in Vienna. The Weltmuseum is a member of the Benin Dialogue Group, which was set up to discuss the future of Benin bronzes in Western collections.

Several Western museums have returned or have undertaken to return Beninese bronzes to Nigeria. In October, Germany and Nigeria signed an agreement setting a timetable for the return of around 1,100 Beninese objects from German museums, with the first repatriations expected in the second quarter of 2022.

Austria’s Culture Ministry said it could not yet give details on the planned commission as talks are still ongoing. But a person involved in the talks said the committee will also include representatives from potential requesting countries.

Although Austria was not a colonial power, it benefited from trade agreements and Austrian merchants and explorers purchased colonial goods. The Weltmuseum, for example, studies the history of the acquisitions of a collection of East African objects brought together in 1884 and 1885 by Emmerich Billitzer, an Austrian naval doctor.


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