Rescued art, poisoned bees, silenced Trump

Authors: Stephen Harsley, Camilla Göth, Rochelle Shanthakumar
  • Posted on: January 11, 2021

Read on for a handpicked selection of the good, the one to watch, and the one to read in the world of social impact communications. This week, we’re highlighting the return of stolen art, bees in danger from pesticides, and the online silencing of President Trump.

| NAILED IT: Art seized by Nazis raises millions for charity 

75 years have passed since the defeat of the Nazi regime in Germany. But shockingly, even after this long not all of the property looted by the Nazis has been returned to its rightful owners. 

Through a combination of anti-semitic laws and the occupation and looting of other European states, an estimated 20% of Europe’s art was stolen. Tens of thousands of pieces remain missing. 

When Irma Löwenstein Austin died in April 1976 she left the majority of her estate to the Vision Foundation. Löwenstein Austin had fled Austria for London in the 1930s to escape the Nazis, shortly after she and her husband Oscar had their property seized. 

In 2018, the Vision Foundation, which supports the blind and partially sighted, was alerted to the presence of two Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller paintings from the Löwenstein Austin estate in museums in Germany. Working alongside a law firm and art specialists, the Foundation was able to claim ownership of the paintings through Löwenstein Austin’s will. The first was sold at auction for £350,000, with the second expected to fetch around £180,000, giving the charity over half a million pounds towards its work.

It’s likely more art will be returned in the years to come. The accompanying stories of loss, terror, violence and cultural destruction serve as a reminder of what happens when democracy dies, something we need today more than ever.

| ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: To bee or not to bee

In just one instance of a Brexit promise the UK government has broken, the use of a pesticide called thiamethoxam, which pollutes rivers via rainwater and threatens Britain’s already declining bee population, has been approved for emergency use. 

The decision marks a U-turn from the UK’s previous backing of an EU-wide ban 2 years ago. Decision makers are said to be under pressure from the National Farmers Union to curb Virus Yellows disease, which affects Britain’s sugar beet crop industry with up to 80% in yield losses.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has defined ‘emergency use’ as where farmers judge there to be no harm to human or animal health, with no unacceptable risks to the environment . 

But how will this be regulated? When bees pollinate up to three quarters of crop species in the UK’s £100bn food industry, will emergency use rules be enough to protect them? Conservationists and Wildlife trusts have long warned of the irreversible environmental risks of a declining bee species. The government must ensure our vital pollinators are protected.

Sign the petition to demand the government stops using pesticides. 

| ONE TO WATCH: Brands hit pause on Trump

Big brands are getting tough on Trump following the violent mob invasion of the US Capitol last week. Twitter has cut the President off from his 88 million followers and Facebook, Snapchat, Reddit and Pinterest have suspended his presence indefinitely.

Coming just days before he leaves office, it’s too little, too late. Trump has spent the last four years fuelling misinformation and extremist rhetoric on social media, but platforms have generally avoided moderating his posts even when it violates hate speech policies.  

It’s important to remember that social media fostering violence is not an issue limited to America or Trump. Facebook has enabled deadly mob attacks in India and Myanmar, and allowed fatal covid-19 conspiracies to flourish.

It’s clearer than ever that social media platforms must be held accountable for their complicity in the destruction of democracy and in absence of meaningful enforcement from social media. There is an urgent need for legislation to address hate speech on these platforms.