중앙데일리

New Delay on French Loot

Nov 02,2000
For the last seven years, a French president in town would always signal a new development in the prolonged negotiations over the return of royal documents of the last Korean dynasty. His visit was always followed by a public outcry about "selling out national pride" and lurches in working-level negotiations.

It seems no exception this time.

Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Jacques Chirac of France met here last month and agreed that, by next year, Seoul will lend multiple-copy versions of the Oekyujanggak royal manuscript in exchange for the 297 records of ceremonies of the Korean royal family that France plundered in 1866.

With this step, Han Sang-Jin, director of the Academy of Korean Studies, was expected to sit at the fourth round of negotiations with his French counterpart, Jacques Sallois, in Paris on Friday. But Mr. Han now says that the original date is no longer viable.

"I do not say the negotiations are postponed but we have yet to receive an official document detailing the status of the manuscripts that France has," he said in a phone interview with the JoongAng Ilbo English Edition.

"We haven't heard from the French side. We are waiting." Negotiations cannot begin before the official notification.

The French Navy took the manuscripts from the Oekyujanggak archives nearly a century and a half ago in retaliation for the killing of nine Catholic priests. The 297 manuscripts were almost all the king's version, and Korea does not have copies of 64 of them. Court historians of the Choson Dynasty (1392-1910) usually made four copies, one for the king and three for storage.

A group of professors at Seoul National University's Kyujanggak Library, which holds about 2,500 of the Oekyujanggak manuscripts, first raised the question of the return of the manuscripts in 1991.

In 1993, the South Korean Foreign Ministry formally asked the French government about the return. Amid discussions about building the high-speed railway linking Seoul and Pusan, two presidents at the time, Francois Mitterrand and Kim Young-sam, agreed on a tentative "loan in perpetuity and exchange" of documents. But that was only tentative and negotiations began. France returned one royal manuscript and Alsthom, a French firm, won rights to the project.

The token of good faith between Mr. Kim and Mr. Mitterrand developed into a "plan for mutual lending or exchanges of artifacts of equal worth." For a while, the French refused to include in the negotiations the 64 single-copy royal documents of which Korea has no copies. Korea, in turn, has refused to give any of its multiple-copy documents.

Thus, the latest agreement is hailed by some as a step forward.

But others are strongly resistant.

"As the director of the Kyujanggak Library, I will not say anything except that we cannot agree to send copies from our library. We didn't do so in in 1993 and we will not do it now," Chung Ok-ja of the Kyujanggak Library said.

Mrs. Chung and others charge that the proposal for the latest exchange not only accepts the legality of the plundering, but also admits France's rightful ownership.

Mr. Han of the Academy of Korean Studies is among questioners of the proposed exchange. "Personally, I completely understand the arguments made by Kyujanggak officials," he said. "It is a matter of national integrity. And I agree with them that the 64 single-copy manuscripts must return."

France, too, has problems with the proposal. A country that engaged in widespread plunder during military expeditions in the 19th century, France fears that returning a seized cultural asset may well set a precedent that would force it to empty the Louvre.

With French law preventing the unconditional return of the assets, Mr. Han said, negotiations are the best way for Korea to obtain the manuscripts.




by Kim Ji-soo




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