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Responding to Colonial Injustice – Reflections on the Legitimacy of the Return of the “Padrão”


Lukas H. Meyer

Germans removed the column of Cape Cross in 1893 at the beginning of Germany’s colonial rule over the land that became German South West Africa. The Portuguese had erected the column on the coast of present-day Namibia in 1486. Recently the state of Namibia has claimed restitution of the padrão against the Federal Republic of Germany. The article investigates the moral legitimacy of the claim. As the removal of the padrão arguably was no wrongful action at the time it was carried out, backward-looking theories of compensatory historical justice fail to support the claim to restitution. However, forward-looking approaches that respond to the structural features of an ongoing unjust regime and the notion of symbolic restitution provide reasons for the return of the padrão to today’s Namibians. It is plausible to consider Germany returning the padrão as being an important measure supporting Namibians’ abilities both to realize their interests in cultural decolonization and to fulfil their duties of commemoration towards the victims of German colonial rule.

Lukas H. Meyer 1

1 Univ.-Prof. Dr. Lukas H. Meyer is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Graz where he serves as Speaker of both the working unit Moral and Political Philosophy and the inter-faculty Doctoral Programme Climate Change funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF). The basis of this article is his talk given at the conference “The Stone Cross from Cape Cross – Colonial Objects and Historical Justice” at the Deutsches Historisches Museum (DHM), Berlin on June 7th, 2018. A shorter version of the paper will be published in the DHM Magazine. The author thanks Claudia Buchwald of DHM for sharing her extremely helpful documentations. Many thanks also to Lena Remich for outstanding research support. This work is part of research undertaken in the project “Supersession of Historical Injustice and Changed Circumstances”, funded by the FWF under research grant P 30084.


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