German officials claim that the artifact’s constitution has already been evaluated and she is too fragile for travel, and that the Nefertiti Summit was never about the merits of Egypt’s case to begin with.
Meanwhile, Zahi Hawass intends to assemble a repatriation alliance based on his own model. “Our strategy became a good case for everyone…. China announced they will do same as we do” (Source: M&C: “Egypt to aid return of Asian, African stolen artifacts”).
It seems rather convenient timing for Berlin to announce after the Nefertiti Summit had ended in stalemate that the analysis of the artifact’s travel worthiness had already been conducted, and with results favorable to Germany. One would think that Berlin would have been more transparent about the evaluation from the beginning, and that such news might have been deemed relevant to the December 20, 2009, meeting between Dr. Zahi Hawass and Dr. Friederike Seyfried of the Berlin Egyptian Museum.
An independent evaluation of the artifact’s ability to withstand transport has been something those of us on the sidelines have been asking for all along. For us, watching this debacle has been like watching a favorite niece being jerked around by self-centered parents in a nasty divorce. But Germany’s thirteenth-hour claim that such a study has been conducted, sans details, invites healthy skepticism.
Regarding the documentary evidence, neither Egypt nor Germany has changed their stand one inch. According to Dr. Seyfried, “The position of the German side is clear and unambiguous – the acquisition of the bust by the Prussian state [of Germany] was legal,” (Source: BBC: “Germany refuses to return Nefertiti bust to Egypt”).
But Germany and Egypt seem to have had different expectations regarding December 20 meeting from the very beginning. Seyfried, contrary to both the Egyptians and the world media, denies that the meeting was ever about Nefertiti, but was instead an opportunity to discuss future joint exhibitions (Source: AFP: “Germany dismisses Egyptian claims to Nefertiti bust”).
This is contrary to Dr. Hawass’ press release which states specifically that the talks were for the purpose of discussing the bust, and that Dr. Seyfried was to “act as liaison between Dr. Hawass and the relevant German officials” (Source: Zahi Hawass’ Blog: Press Release -Meeting with Berlin Museum Director).
This leads one to wonder if the media savvy Hawass essentially hijacked the occasion to focus attention on his own agenda. Certainly Hawass has always made the repatriation of artifacts a priority, but is the current steroidal emphasis on the subject intended to solidify his new role as Vice Minister of Culture?
Zahi Hawass has always enjoyed a cosmopolitan appeal, but his new position as a Vice Minister adds a more official element to his international dealings. As champion of Egyptian culture, it would be easy for Dr. Hawass to justify (in his own mind, at least) redefining the purpose of the meeting with Dr. Seyfried from a general administrative function to a summit discussing the repatriation of the bust of Nefertiti.
And the media, current company included, has been complicit. Germany has insisted, quite openly, that the meeting was not about the fate of Nefertiti. In my own defense I might add that Berlin’s protestations could have been a little less vague regarding the purpose of the meeting, and the fact that Dr. Seyfried did use the occasion to present Germany’s evidence that the bust was acquired legally shows that the issue was at least on the menu.
But Dr. Hawass is an old hand at playing to the media, and his repatriation efforts seem to be expanding in both momentum and scope. According to a speech he gave last week, he intends to build a coalition of nations who feel they have been cheated out of their heritages.
“At the end of March,” Hawass proclaimed, “we will hold a conference to meet with others who suffered like us from stolen artifacts and to discuss how to help all of us in efforts to return the stolen artifacts” (Source: M&C: “Egypt to aid return of Asian, African stolen artifacts”).
Whether Nefertiti is ever returned to Egypt or not, she is clearly serving a diplomatic role for Egypt as a royal hostage to the West. Given the probable fragility of the artifact, proving Borchardt’s deceptiveness in acquiring it for Germany was always more of a moral than practical goal. If nothing else, it would place Germany awkwardly in debt to Egypt.
Meanwhile, the camera lights shine, the presses roll, and cyberspace remains honed-in on Zahi Hawass and his growing crusade to free not only Egyptian artifacts from the evil doers, but to lead all the downtrodden nations in a charge to reclaim what is theirs. Of course, western universities are welcome to continue to expend resources on, western corporations are welcome to continue to invest in, writers to write about, and Hollywood to exaggerate, Egypt’s culture. Just be sure to pay a visit to the Vice Minister of Culture’s Office.
An article from M&C News (“German museum confirms travel ban for Queen Nefertiti“) has provided some additional details about the examination of the bust of Nefertiti with regard to determining her mobility.
‘An examination in 2007 of the state of preservation of the bust ruled it unsuitable for transport or loans,’ said the Prussian Heritage Foundation, the parent corporation of the museum. ‘Further tests which have not yet been completed only confirm this’ (Source).
And if that isn’t plain enough:
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s top culture aide, Bernd Neumann, said Tuesday through a spokesman that a loan was now “absolutely out of the question on conservation grounds alone” (Source).
Copyright by Keith Payne, 2009. All rights reserved.
Photograph “Berlin 053” by RinzeWind is used in accordance with this Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.