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Will French library`s protest sabotage royal books` return?

Will French library`s protest sabotage royal books` return?

Posted November. 20, 2010 13:56,   


BnF, or the National Library of France, is opposed to the return to Korea of "Oegyujanggak," the royal books of Korea`s Joseon Dynasty looted in the 19th century by French troops.

A bilateral agreement will allow Korea to renew its lease on the books every five years, and is considered a permanent lease of the books.

With opposition to the return spreading throughout France`s cultural sector, fears are rising that negotiations on the loan will be adversely affected.

Eleven officials at the library issued a statement Friday blasting the agreement and began rallying supporters.

The Korean Embassy in Paris simply said, “We expected such a response to an extent.”

In negotiations on the leasing, the French library strongly opposed what it called an unequal agreement, saying it will stop the official plane of French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Seoul will begin government-level negotiations Monday at the earliest to conclude the leasing agreement as soon as possible. To lead the talks for Korea is Ambassador to Paris Park Heung-shin.

The Korean government says the completion of the agreement between the heads of the two countries as soon as possible is the best way.

In particular, working-level negotiations between the Korean National Museum of Art and the French library will be limited to technical areas such as delivery and storage of the books. This is to preclude the possibility of the French library undermining government-level negotiations.

The situation is not that easy, however. The return of the books was frustrated in 1993 despite the pledge of then French President François Mitterrand due to the French library’s objection. At the time, Mitterrand`s influence was weak because his term was ending and library officials opposed the return.

Despite the objection, however, the planned return did not grow into a public debate.

The situation this year is different, however. With the French library showing signs of staging collective action, the leasing dispute could turn into a social issue in France.

The French daily Liberation said Friday, “President Sarkozy circumvented the principle of banning the outflow of cultural assets through the form of a permanent lease. This is a de facto return of the books and they will not return to France,” adding, “President Sarkozy, who has made decisions and taken action unilaterally, acted without prudence.”

In addition, Sarkozy will begin his re-election campaign next year. Experts say he will not risk his political fate by forcing the agreement if the French library`s objection leads to public opposition.

The situation could worsen should other national museums in France join forces and go on strike.

Ambassador Park said, “The consensus between the two countries is that the completion of the agreement should be made as soon as possible before the (French library`s) launches an organized objection,” adding, “The priority is to bring the books to Korea immediately.”