French Librarians Oppose Return of Korean Royal Texts

      November 19, 2010 09:33

      Opposition is mounting in France against the return of royal Korean archives looted during a botched invasion in the 19th century and held in the French national library. Librarians at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) in a statement Thursday protested against the return of the 297 volumes of the Oegyujanggak royal archives, which was agreed in a recent summit in Seoul between President Lee Myung-bak and French President Nikolas Sarkozy. 

      The statement of opposition was signed by around 10 officials led by Thierry Delcourt, the director of the manuscripts department.

      Sarkozy "ignored the opposition of the culture ministry and the BnF calling for an exchange of cultural assets and reached a rash decision," they said. "A five-year, renewable loan is tantamount to a restitution and strips material from the BnF, which has maintained valuable manuscripts since the 16th century to provide research opportunities for scholars." They warned the move would set an "illicit" precedent that would lead to mounting calls from other countries for the return of their cultural assets.

      Korean Ambassador to France Park Heung-shin, who heads a team negotiating the details of the return, said the agreement was "a political decision by Sarkozy despite opposition from the culture ministry and the BnF." But Park added the French negotiating team looked carefully into the legal areas so the opposition will not pose an obstacle."

      In September 1993, then French President François Mitterrand pledged to return the royal archives during a summit with his counterpart Kim Young-sam, but the deal failed to materialize due to strong opposition from BnF librarians.

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