France Hints at Solution in Row Over Looted Korean Texts

      March 19, 2010 11:34

      A long-running dispute over the return of historic Korean texts looted by the French in the late 19th century looks about to reach a turning point. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is set to visit Korea for the G20 Summit in November, may decide to return the books from the Oegyujanggak royal library.

      There will be positive results within the next few months," said Jack Lang, the former culture minister who served as Sarkozy's special envoy to North Korea, said Wednesday. Lang made the comments in a meeting with Korean journalists in Paris. "The two countries will be able to begin detailed talks on the return of the Oegyujanggak books during the visit to Korea by Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner" this weekend.

      Lang was culture minister in 1993, when president Kim Young-sam and French president Francois Mitterrand agreed to return one of the Oegyujanggak books, "Hwigyeongwon Wonso Dogam," in the form of a permanent loan. Although he does not officially represent the French government, Lang is a major political figure who wields tremendous influence in the country's cultural arena and, despite being a socialist, is a part of the conservative Sarkozy's team of advisers.

      When asked how he intends to deal with opposition from officials at the National Library of France, Lang suggested this would not pose a major obstacle, saying, "A lot of time has passed and a wide range of discussions have taken place. Although we respect the opinions of our cultural organizations, ultimately the government has the final say."

      Last year, a French court rejected a lawsuit filed by a Korean civic group seeking the permanent return of the remaining 296 royal texts, saying the group had no standing. The civic group appealed the ruling, but experts are calling for a political rather than legal solution.

      Seoul in March formally requested a permanent loan of the texts. Although the royal texts would be nominally on loan, Korea would never have to give them back. In return, the Korean government could loan other national treasures to France on a long-term basis.

      Meanwhile, some experts are saying the Korean government should raise the issue of other Korean antiques looted by the French. Prof. Li Jine-mieung, a Korean history professor at France's Lyon 3 University, claimed Thursday that the French National Library appears to have three marble slabs and one jade book, according to library documents.

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