Despite Progress, Much Remains to Be Done in the Restoration of Art Plundered by the Nazis

Jan. 10 2019

The Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art, signed by 44 countries in 1998, provide guidelines for the investigation of art that may have been looted by the Third Reich, and have allowed for the restitution of tens of thousands of works of art, books, and other objects. Yet, writes Stuart Eizenstat—one of the negotiators of the Washington Principles—much stolen artwork remains at large. In 2016 and 2018 Congress passed measures plugging certain legal loopholes that could interfere with the restitution of art to its rightful owners and their heirs:

Russia and a handful of other European nations that supported the Washington Principles have largely ignored or barely implemented them. Provenance research is a low priority in Europe’s public museums and nonexistent in its private collections; looted art still trades in the European market with little hindrance. De-accession laws prevent public museums from returning art under any circumstances.

Fortunately, the Washington Principles continue to exert a moral force. . . . [I]n late November, more than 1,000 representatives and stakeholders from more than ten countries gathered in Berlin for three days to measure our progress after twenty years and chart a road map for next steps. The Trump administration sent Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues Thomas Yazdgerdi and me to recommit the U.S. to the international effort to return these personal and cultural treasures to the families to which they belong. We know this is the work of more than any single administration, indeed more than any single generation. . . .

No self-respecting government, art dealer, private collector, museum, or auction house should trade in or possess art stolen by the Nazis. We must all recommit ourselves to faithfully implementing the Washington Principles before Holocaust survivors breathe their last breath. We owe it not only to those who lost so much in the Holocaust but also to our own sense of moral justice.

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More about: Arts & Culture, Congress, Holocaust, Holocaust restitution, Nazi Germany

The Syrian Civil War May Be Coming to an End, but Three New Wars Are Rising There

March 26 2019

With both Islamic State and the major insurgent forces largely defeated, Syria now stands divided into three parts. Some 60 percent of the country, in the west and south, is in the hands of Bashar al-Assad and his allies. Another 30 percent, in the northeast, is in the hands of the mostly Kurdish, and American-backed, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The final 10 percent, in the northwest, is held by Sunni jihadists, some affiliated with al-Qaeda, under Turkish protection. But, writes Jonathan Spyer, the situation is far from stable. Kurds, likely linked to the SDF, have been waging an insurgency in the Turkish areas, and that’s only one of the problems:

The U.S.- and SDF-controlled area east of the Euphrates is also witnessing the stirrings of internal insurgency directed from outside. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “236 [SDF] fighters, civilians, oil workers, and officials” have been killed since August 2018 in incidents unrelated to the frontline conflict against Islamic State. . . . The SDF blames Turkey for these actions, and for earlier killings such as that of a prominent local Kurdish official. . . . There are other plausible suspects within Syria, however, including the Assad regime (or its Iranian allies) or Islamic State, all of which are enemies of the U.S.-supported Kurds.

The area controlled by the regime is by far the most secure of Syria’s three separate regions. [But, for instance, in] the restive Daraa province in the southwest, [there has been] a renewed small-scale insurgency against the Assad regime. . . .

As Islamic State’s caliphate disappears from Syria’s map, the country is settling into a twilight reality of de-facto division, in which a variety of low-burning insurgencies continue to claim lives. Open warfare in Syria is largely over. Peace, however, will remain a distant hope.

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More about: ISIS, Kurds, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, Turkey