Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi met with Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi today to finalize a “friendship and cooperation agreement” designed to compensate Libya for colonial era damage. Over the next 25 years, Italy will pay restitution to Libya for its occupation and subsequent colonization in the first half of the 20th century.
During colonization, the Italians invested heavily in Libya, developing the infrastructure and other public works. As many European nations were renewing their interest in archaeology, Italy was conducting archaeological projects in Libya. The rediscovery of the ancient Roman city of Leptis Magna legitimized the notion that there was an Italian right to colonize the region.
To use the past as a political tool is not altogether uncommon. The book Archaeology Under Dictatorship explores how dictatorships of the Mediterranean region have done just that. The book uses the Italian colonization of Libya as a case study, and would be a timely read in light of the agreement reached between the two countries.
As part of the agreement, Berlusconi says he will hand over the long-awaited Venere di Cirene (Venus of Cyrene). In 1913, Italian troops found this ancient Roman statue of the goddess Venus near the ruins of Cyrene, on the Libyan coast. In 1989, Libya requested its repatriation, but Italy has persistently refused to return the statue, despite a court ruling in Libya’s favor and its own 2007 assurances that it would do so. The international community has found this refusal oddly hyprocritical in light of Italy’s aggressive campaigning for the return of its own stolen and illegally exported artifacts from foreign museums. The actual relinquishment will show a diplomatic maturity on Italy’s part that former actions in regard to this statue seemed to indicate it lacked.
Read about Italy’s former assurances of return of the Venere di Cyrene on the Washington Post website, Italy to Return Ancient Statue to Libya.
Order the 2006 book Archaeology Under Dictatorship from Amazon.