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Belgium To France: 'You Robbed Our Rubens'

Local officials in western Belgium are demanding that France return an 18th century work by Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens stolen by French troops. It may be just the beginning of efforts to recoup art works that were booty for imperialist French armies

Detail of
Detail of
Jean-Pierre Stroobants

BRUSSELS – A group of Belgian politicians have an outstanding issue they want to resolve with a neighbor: the recovery of a painting by Peter Paul Rubens, that was stolen by French troops in western Belgium ... in 1794. The Museum of Fine Arts in Nantes, which currently holds "The Triumph of Judas Maccabeus," was completely taken aback by the demand from officials in French-speaking Belgium. "We know the history of this work. We also lend it to other museums on a regular basis, but at no time have we heard of a claim for restitution," said a museum spokesman.

The painting was part of a series, together with the "The Issue of Souls in Purgatory," commissioned by Maximilien Villain, the Bishop of the Belgium town of Tournai. Delivered in 1635 and paid for by the inhabitants of the city, the two paintings were to form a composition around the altar. Stolen during the French occupation, "The Issue" was then sent to Nantes by command of French Emperor Napoleon. As for the other part of the diptych, it was returned to Ghent by mistake, before heading back to Tournai.

Tournai is now the only city in Wallonia --the French-speaking southern region of Belgium -- that still owns a work by the Flemish master. Tournai has decided to take action, and is supported by the elected representatives of the Wallonia-Brussels federation, who are expected to pass a resolution Thursday demanding the return of the painting. The push to retrieve the work comes as the city is undertaking a complete restoration of the cathedral, which was badly damaged by a storm. The francophone representatives backing the proposition deem it "normal" that the collections of such an important place of worship should be restored.

Representatives of the four parties that signed the resolution want to make it clear that they are only asking for the restitution of the one painting by Rubens, and not that of the thousands of works of art that were stolen in Belgium during the French Revolution, the Consulate and the First French Empire. "It would be foolish to think we could get everything back at once," said Richard Miller, a former regional Minister of Culture and member of the Mouvement Reformateur (Reformist Movement), a French-speaking liberal party. "Still, we could try to get them back one item at a time, each case based on cast-iron arguments."

Read the original article in French

Photo - Nantes Museum of Fine Arts

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The Problem With Always Blaming Climate Change For Natural Disasters

Climate change is real, but a closer look at the science shows there are many factors that contribute to weather-related disasters. It is important to raise awareness about the long-term impact of global warming, but there's a risk in overstating its role in the latest floods or fires.

People on foot, on bikes, motorcycles, scooters and cars navigate through a flooded street during the day time.

Karachi - People wade through flood water after heavy rain in a southern Pakistani city

Xinhua / ZUMA
Axel Bojanowski


BERLIN — In September, thousands of people lost their lives when dams collapsed during flooding in Libya. Engineers had warned that the dams were structurally unsound.

Two years ago, dozens died in floods in western Germany, a region that had experienced a number of similar floods in earlier centuries, where thousands of houses had been built on the natural floodplain.

Last year saw more than 1,000 people lose their lives during monsoon floods in Pakistan. Studies showed that the impact of flooding in the region was exacerbated by the proximity of human settlements, the outdated river management system, high poverty rates and political instability in Pakistan.

There are many factors that contribute to weather-related disasters, but one dominates the headlines: climate change. That is because of so-called attribution studies, which are published very quickly after these disasters to highlight how human-caused climate change contributes to extreme weather events. After the flooding in Libya, German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung described climate change as a “serial offender," while the Tageszeitung wrote that “the climate crisis has exacerbated the extreme rainfall."

The World Weather Attribution initiative (WWA) has once again achieved its aim of using “real-time analysis” to draw attention to the issue: on its website, the institute says its goal is to “analyse and communicate the possible influence of climate change on extreme weather events." Frederike Otto, who works on attribution studies for the WWA, says these reports help to underscore the urgent need for climate action. They transform climate change from an “abstract threat into a concrete one."

In the immediate aftermath of a weather-related disaster, teams of researchers rush to put together attribution studies – “so that they are ready within the same news cycle," as the New York Times reported. However, these attribution studies do not meet normal scientific standards, as they are published without going through the peer-review process that would be undertaken before publication in a specialist scientific journal. And that creates problems.

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