Greece is suffering from a sovereign debt crisis largely of its own making. By necessity, the Greek Government is cutting funding for museums and archaeological projects. So, why choose now to ask the U.S. Government to impose import restrictions on cultural artifacts stretching from the Neolithic period to the hated Turkish occupation? A cynic might wonder if this is an attempt to divert attention away from these harsh realities, particularly for those in the hard hit cultural sector.
Be that as it may, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of our own State Department-- which has probably known about the Greek request for months-- seems now intent on ramming through yet another controversial request for import restrictions before the end of the year. Despite complaints about the short comment period for the Italian MOU, another short comment period (to 9/22) has been mandated here.
State has sought to justify the Greek request by publishing what purports to be a summary on its website. (See below.) Most of the document is a Greek history lesson. There is some discussion about looting, Greek cultural activities and police efforts.
The request, however, does not answer some fundamental questions.
First, what specific artifacts does Greece seek import restrictions on? (We are told looters seek out pottery, jewelry, coins and statuary, but that is not the same as notice to the public about what Greece seeks to restrict.) In particular, is Greece only asking for restrictions on artifacts for which there is undisputed scholarly evidence that they are only found in Greece, or are the Greeks seeking restrictions on anything and everything that conceivably might be Greek?
Second, why does Greece seek restrictions on artifacts from thousands of years of its history? Are they serious, or is this some bureaucratic gambit that will allow the State Department to later claim they scaled back the request in an effort to compromise with opponents? (This is precisely what happened with the even broader Chinese request.)
Third, how does Greece square asking American collectors to show the provenance of the artifacts they import (particularly coins) when there is no similar requirement placed on Greek collectors (of which there are many)? I understand that Greek collectors must register their collections and technically only have "possession" not "ownership" of them, but this is not the same thing.