Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Decision on Italian MOU Expected Next Week

The current MOU with Italy is due to expire on January 19, 2011. Since the first MOU with Italy was promulgated almost ten years ago, Italy has certainly ramped up enforcement of its cultural patrimony laws. At the same time, however, Italy's grossly underfunded cultural establishment has shown itself to be resistant to change despite some efforts at modernization. Moreover, long promised long term loans to American museums-- not linked to repatriation of individual objects-- have yet to materialize.

Import restrictions were contemplated to give source countries like Italy time to set up adequate internal enforcement mechanisms. Italy has certainly succeeded by that measure. Yet, no one seriously anticipates that current import restrictions on ancient Italian artifacts will be allowed to lapse. Instead, the one real question is whether import restrictions will be extended to a whole new extensive class of artifacts-- ancient coins-- after they have been previously exempted in 2001 and 2006.

Hard-liners in the archaeological establishment certainly hope this will come to pass. Still, Paul Barford, an archaeo-blogger, claims to have inside information that coins will again be exempted from restrictions. See http://paul-barford.blogspot.com/2010/09/coins-not-in-italy-cultural-agreement.html

It's unclear how given State Department secrecy, Barford knows this for a fact, but presumably he received his information from other, more connected archaeologists with links either to the State Department or the Italian cultural bureaucracy. Despite repeated requests for clarification, the usually wordy Barford remains strangely silent about his sources.

Instead, Barford and David Gill have promoted claims about coins, not made by another archaeologist or numismatist, but rather by Paolo Ferri, the prosecutor, who managed to drag the Marion True trial out for years until the statute of limitations finally mercifully ended what many concluded had become a persecution rather than a prosecution. According to Ferri, coins are supposedly of "crucial importance" to the dating of archaeological sites and are "difficult for the authorities to track," see
http://paul-barford.blogspot.com/2011/01/clandestine-excavation-is-crime-that-is.html and http://lootingmatters.blogspot.com/2011/01/paolo-ferri-returns-are-symbolic.html
(claims that were questioned to various degrees during the MOU hearing). Be that as it may, the fact remains that Italy itself (along with other major market countries within the EU) does not require of its own citizens what archaeologists propose to be required of Americans collectors.

Twelve members of Congress--including the incoming Chair of the House Budget Committee-- have expressed serious concerns to the State Department about any such discrimination against American interests import restrictions would only encourage. See http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2010/11/members-of-congress-weigh-in-against.html

Will the State Department heed these concerns? We should find out for sure no later than January 19, 2011.

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