Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Bulgarian MOU: What's Really At Stake

Behind all the slogans, what will be the real impact of any US decision to impose import restrictions on behalf of Bulgaria?

Will it end looting of archaeological sites by Bulgarians? No.

Will it diminish demand for Bulgarian antiquities? Doubtful, as any restrictions will only apply to American collectors. Collectors in Bulgaria, the rest of the EU and emerging markets in Asia and the Middle East will be unaffected.

Will it end corruption in Bulgaria? No, if anything, it might actually open up new avenues for corrupt officials such as the resale of repatriated antiquities.

Will it encourage the Bulgarian cultural establishment to implement more rational and inclusive laws governing the sale and possession of cultural goods? No, if anything, it will butress the current status quo.

Will it make it far more difficult to import coins "of Bulgarian type" into the United States? Yes. Despite some claims to the contrary made by know-it-all archaeologists with no practical experience whatsoever, it really is difficult to import coins on the designated list. Information for the required certifications as to the whereabouts of a restricted coins as of the date of the restrictions, is typically unavailable for all but the very few coins that are photographed for purposes of auctions, perhaps 1 coin in every 10,000, and valuable ones at that. Thus, while the impact of restrictions on expensive coins that are more likely to have appeared at auction is tempered to some extent, as a practical matter import restrictions bar legal entry of the vast majority of coins readily available in legitimate markets abroad.

So, by all means, let your views be your guide in commenting on the Bulgarian MOU-- but hopefully only do so with knowledge of what is really at stake.

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