Tuesday, October 25, 2011

SAFE: Say Yes to the Corrupt Bulgarian Status Quo?

Saving Antiquities for Everyone (SAFE) has started yet another "Say Yes" advocacy campaign in support of import restrictions, this time on behalf of Bulgaria. http://www.savingantiquities.org/Bulgariamou.php

But, what will SAFE's campaign (and that of the AIA) for "no questions asked" import restrictions really do for Bulgaria and the protection of its cultural patrimony, but help support the corrupt status quo?

Though SAFE's advocacy document has plenty of links detailing individual stories about looting of archaeological sites, SAFE's advocacy fails to mention a sobering report about the state of Bulgaria’s cultural policy prepared by the Center for the Study of Democracy. See The Antiquities Trade-Dealers, Traffickers, and Connoisseurs, in Organized Crime in Bulgaria: Markets and Trends 178-197 (Center for Study of Democracy 2007) (“CSD Report”) (available at:http://www.csd.bg/artShow.php?id=9120(last checked, 10/19/11).

This report, prepared with funding from the U.S. Department of Justice, appears to largely reflect the views of government cultural officials and archaeologists. Nevertheless, the report contains some eye-opening facts that should give pause to anyone who might assume all is well with how Bulgaria manages its own cultural patrimony:

• From 100,000 to 250,000 Bulgarians regularly conduct illicit excavations. (Id. at 179.)

• “Most Bulgarian museums have poor recording practices of the artifacts in stock. The general lack of accountability, in particular of museum directors, further aggravates the situation…. The majority of museums do not observe the international standard for describing art, antiques and antiquities with photographs and descriptions of each object (the so called Object ID). In Bulgarian museums objects are often loosely described in general terms, which makes it impossible for them to be tracked, positively identified and restored. The dire state of museum documentation dooms to failure any efforts to trace stolen coins or other items transferred abroad.” (Id. at 183.)

• “To make their anti-looting and anti-trafficking efforts seem more effective enforcement agencies announce lavish values of the illicitly acquired cultural objects they capture.” (Id.)

• “During interviews, carried out for purposes of this paper, it was made clear that the prescribed system of registration [of coins in private collections] by commissions made up of local museum employees was not found trustworthy, as it did not provide safeguards against the theft of valuable coins which could be replaced with cheaper lower grade versions by museum workers.” (Id. at 193.)

• “Some collectors have voiced their suspicions that past burglaries of private coin collections have been committed with the involvement of corrupt police officers or other enforcement officials.” (Id. at 193 n. 312.)

• “Inertia and neglect are not the only factors to throttle effective enforcement. Widespread corruption among local middle-ranking law-enforcement officers who earn personal gains on the black cultural property market also has an adverse effect. Experts have outlined three major forms of corrupt relationships between police officers and antique dealers/looters: 1) policemen are bribed to cover looters and deter police investigation; 2) officers of higher rank become directly involved in illicit antiquities trading, and 3) officers that must prevent and fight cultural property violations become collectors. In addition, the grading of cultural objects held by looters, dealers or collectors is itself often done by would-be experts whose only training is a two-week course delivered by the Privatization Agency on a regular basis that can hardly have equipped them with the knowledge they need to possess about cultural goods. Despite their determination to get looters or persons in illicit hold of antiquities convicted, law-enforcement and investigative bodies are often hampered by either incompetent or intentionally falsified expert assessments presented at the trial phase.” (Id. at 194.)

• “In 2003, the head of Cultural Property Department at the National Police Col. Georgi Getov was discharged. According to media reports he had operated one of the main antiquity smuggling channels in Bulgaria in partnership with a number of prosecutors, NSCOC officers, local archaeological museum directors and other officials who had served as a supply link between looters and the implicated department head. Maritsa Dnes daily, 7 May 2003.” (Id. at 194 n. 316.)

The report goes on to make detailed suggestions on how to address the problem of looting in Bulgaria, including the regulation of metal detectors and the passage of a cultural heritage law that takes into account the concerns of collectors as well as archaeologists.

The report is relevant because Bulgaria is expected to take self-help measures before import restrictions are imposed. In addition, less severe remedies must be considered before the State Department again limits the ability of Americans to import artifacts. (26 USC Section 2602 (a) (1) (B) and (C)(ii).)

Under the circumstances, the US could best help Bulgaria by tabling any talk of import restrictions to allow Bulgaria time to act on the CSD report's recommendations. Though any looting of Bulgarian archaeological sites is regrettable, it is best addressed in Bulgaria itself through the regulation of metal detectors and serious consideration of CSD's other suggestions before import restrictions are imposed.


Paul Barford said...

and in the meantime US dealers will carry on buying these coins supplied by the very same market you have just attempted to describe, yes?

kyri said...

hi peter,while people like paul barford are calling for the
"regulation of metal detectors" in the uk, they are lambasted yet you are calling for regulation to be implemented on bulgarian detectorists and the cultural laws to be tightend up befor any mou is even considred.whats the difference?in my view regulation of metal detectors in the uk is also well overdue,never mind bulgaria.

Cultural Property Observer said...

For Mr. Barford (who does not provide me the courtesy of publishing my comments on his own blog), the issue here is import restrictions on coins by type, not Customs' ability to interdict coins proven to be the products of illicit investigations in Bulgaria.

For Kyri, I don't follow your point. The use of metal detectors is regulated in the UK through the Treasure Act and scheduling archaeological sites. On the other hand, there does not seem to be any effective regulation of them in Bulgaria at all-- the CSD's Report's conclusion, not mine. Shouldn't this be tried first before we require American collectors to produce documentation that does not exist for most coins before coins of Bulgarian type are imported into the US?

kyri said...

peter,as i said in the past ,i dont agree with mous for coins as for me they are very different from antiquities. as for metal detectors being regulated in the uk,sure they cant detect on scheduld sites but other than that they are free to do as they please,even the reporting of finds is voluntary,thats hardly regulation in my eyes.if the bulgarians had similar "regulation" in their country i dont think it would stop the haemorhage of antiquities from their country,it would only legalise the looting.
ps,paul if your reading this ,publish peters quotes,its only fair.

Dave Welsh said...

Peter Tompa's point is valid, not only in the case of Bulgaria but also in many other nations which have come (or will come) to the US State Department seeking import restrictions on antiquities.

Official corruption is rampant in these nations. The fix is in, permanently and pervasively. As Jugurtha trenchantly observed 2100 years ago, "Romae omnia venalia esse" (in Rome everything is for sale). Today, in Bulgaria, Egypt, and even in Greece and Italy, history repeats itself as citizens of these nations bribe corrupt officials to look the other way while they plunder archaeological sites and openly search with metal detectors for coin hoards.

One does not have to be an Einstein to grasp the reality that so long as such corruption exists, import restrictions on antiquities cannot have any real positive impact on deterring looting.

What import restrictions instead can provide is political cover for politicians who should be cleaning up this corruption. They point to US import restrictions, claiming to be doing something to correct the situation. Thus, US import restrictions actually postpone and perhaps avert development of public outrage in these nations - outrage that has recently toppled several oppressive dictatorships.

Import restrictions clearly are not the solution to the problem - they are instead part of the problem.

Cultural Property Observer said...

Kyri- The Treasure Act is a mandatory scheme for artifacts that fall within its legal requirements. Best, Peter

Paul Barford said...

"ps,paul if your reading this ,publish peters quotes,its only fair. Well, Kyri, I have just checked. "Cultural property Observer" (for I assume that is who we are talking about) has in the whole time my blog has been running sent 11 comments to 8 posts (and one to the blog about Japanese prints). I have just checked and found that despite what Tompa alleges, that every single comment I received was approved and is visible under the post to which they refer. If he sent one which was not posted, I clearly did not receive it. please send it again.

The Treasure Act does not "regulate metal detecting". The only place in the UK where the use of metal detectors to find ancient artefacts is regulated (by a permit system) is in Northern Ireland, but for Mr Tompa's information that is under different legislation. I too find it somewhat odd that he is calling for a "regulation" of something in one EU country where he praises the lack of regulation of the same thing in England and Wales.

But there was no answer to the question what US coin dealers will be doing if the ongoing discussions about curbing artefact smuggling are put off as their lobbyists demand.

Cultural Property Observer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cultural Property Observer said...

For Mr. Barford-

As to publishing comments, I now notice that you have published my comment critical of your singling out individual public comments to the Bulgarian MOU -- for some reason though the comment appears first on that blog showing it was posted first-- it did not appear for some time after others that were posted.

As to the Treasure Act, it certainly regulates finds by metal detectorists, so I think you are being a bit misleading there.