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The Italian Foreign Minister Supports AFROMET
The Addis Tribune By Richard Pankhurst 16 May 2003
AFROMET was responsible less than a year ago in repatriating Emperor Tewodros's amulet: the amulet he was wearing at the time of his dramatic suicide on 13 April 1868.
Readers in Addis Ababa may care to see AFROMET's most recent achievement: the replica in the middle of Churchill Road of Emperor Tewodros's famous Maqdala cannon, for the erection of which we are grateful to the Addis Ababa City Council,
Signor Franco Frattini
The Italian Foreign Minister is His Excellency Signor Franco Frattini, to whose attitude to cultural restitution we will come to in due course. Dear Reader: please wait!
The headline of the present essay, about Franco Frattini, is avowedly a little tendentious. It is, however, scarcely more tendetious than many other statements that have been retailed on the question of restitution over the last half century or so.
I would cite for example Article 37 of the Italian Peace Treaty with the United Nations. The said Article states that "within eighteen months from the coming into force of the present Treaty, Italy shall restore all works of art, religious objects, archives and objects of historical value belonging to Ethiopia or its nationals and removed from Ethiopia to Italy since October 3, 1935", i.e the date of the Fascist invasion.
Given that the Aksum Obelisk is still in Rome, where Mussolini had it placed in 1937, we could argue that Article 37 was also somewhat tendentious.
The same could indeed be said of the more recent bilateral agreement between the Ethiopian and Italian Governments, signed in 1997, in which Italy promised to return the Obelisk in the course of that year, i.e. six years ago.
We should, however, admit that many people have learnt to be very patient on the Obelisk issue. They have of course had many years to learn patience - over fifty years in fact.
Dear reader, you do not learn patience overnight. It takes time. But you can learn a lot from the Obelisk's non-return over a space of fifty years. The University should in fact consider awarding Honorary Doctorates in Patience.
But the purpose of the present essay is in no way to flog the Aksum Obelisk issue - we have probably already flogged it enough in the past. The object of this essay is rather to turn to the good Italian Foreign Minister, Franco Frattini.
Mr Cyril Scott
I should, however, at first explain that, though many people have over the years learnt patience in relation to the Obelisk, many others have not. One person in this latter category is our friend Mr Cyril Scott in England. He is one of a band of lovers of justice who frequently write about the matter to the British Government, to British MPs and to British Members of the European Parliament - and others. Other enthusiasts are writing similar letters in the United States, Sweden and elsewhere. Mr. Scott, in his letters, has also asked why the Italian Government has not returned the Ethiopian aeroplane Tsehai, called after Emperor Haile Sellassie's daughter of that name, which is currently in the Italian Aviation Museum.
Ms Lyz Lynne MEP
One of Mr Scott's letters about the Obelisk duly reached a British Member of the European Parliament, Ms Lyz Lynne MEP, who accordingly wrote to our old friend the Italian Ambassador in London, Luigi Amadizzi. (I write "old friend" because a group of us picketed his Embassy about the Obelisk last year and the year before).
Luigi Amadizzi duly forwarded Lyz Lynne's letter to his boss, the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Honorable Franco Frattini. - and duly forwarded her the latter's reply, with his "kind regards".
Which brings us to our "tendentious" headline about the Honorable Frattini's support for AFROMET.
Franco Frattini's letter
Franco Frattini's letter, dated 19 February 2003, was accompanied by a "Courtesy Translation", which reads as follows. (I quote it in full).
"I refer to your letter of January 24th last and wish to inform you that in the course of the Cabinet meeting of 19th. 2002, the Italian Government confirmed its commitment to the return of the Axum Obelisk to Ethiopia. The relevant technical and administrative proceedures are currently under way.
"Not many people know that this is an extremely complex operation never attempted before. It needs to be carried out with the utmost care and caution, in accordance with safety proceedures designed to avert any risk to the integrity of an obelisk of such dimensions. The operators are working in close contact with their Ethiopian counterparts to ensure the fullest possible co-operation at each of the operation's stages".
And then, looking in more general perspective, Franco Frattini continues:
"We believe that this operation is of particular significance, not only for the bilateral relations between Italy and Ethiopia, but also in the wider international context, as it sets an example for other countries to follow, if they are so inclined.
"With the hope that other countries will follow in our footsteps, I avail myself of this opportunity to send you my kindest regards.
[signed] "Franco Frattini".
So there you have it: Franco Frattini expresses the "hope that other countries will follow on our footsteps", i.e. the footsteps of Italy in returning the Aksim Obelisk.
Our essay's headline about the Italian Foreign Minister supporting AFROMET is thus perhaps not so "tendentious" after all!
And if Franco Frattini, or anyone else for that matter, wants to know about AFROMET's position they could consult the organisation's submission to the British Parliament, published in the [British] House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee's Seventh Report on CULTURAL PROPERTY: RETURN AND ILLICIT TRADE, Volume III, Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence, piblished by the British Stationery Office in London, in 2000, pages 354-8, as well as the Memorandum of the Ethiopian World Federation in the same volume, on page 289.
Professor Sven Rubenson
Since the Honorable Frattini is good enough to express his hope that "other countries will follow in our footsteps" we see him as a man of vision. If he is to use it we would appeal that Italy herself should take one further step by returning the Ethiopian aeroplane Tsehai, as well as the residue of the pre-war Ethiopian Ministry of the Pen archives, still in Rome, about which our old friend the Swedish Professor of Ethiopian history, Sven Rubenson, promises to send ADDIS TRIBUNE an article in the near future.
Or is this too much to ask?
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