Friday, May 24, 2013

Something's Missing from the Discussion About the Repatriation of Some Ancient Coins to Bulgaria

The Government has publicized the repatriation of some ancient coins to Bulgaria.   But we should be clear about the background of the return.  The coins were evidently abandoned after they were seized based on alleged misstatements on a customs form.  Though Bulgaria has sought a MOU with the United States, US import controls have not yet been promulgated.  Moreover, there is no allegation the coins in question were "stolen" from Bulgaria.  Indeed, that would be a difficult case to make given Bulgaria's open and legal trade in the exact same items.

For more about the issues surrounding the MOU that is being considered see here.


Cultural Property Observer said...

Arthur Houghton asked me to post this:

Dear Peter:

To follow your item on the repatriation of certain coins to Bulgaria, it's clear that importers must follow Customs regulations and declare the origin and full value of imported material. At the same time, the rules on ownership are clear: those countries that allow an open market in antiquities forfeit their right to claim those antiquities as belonging to the state. The legality of export does not affect ownership, as you know; good title can be passed when the objects are exported in violation of state laws. The countless objects that come into the US and enrich our understanding of the ancient past can and should continue, of course, in the absence of the national will of source countries to control their own trade.

At least one intellectually impoverished commentator preaches that the UNESCO Resolution covers Bulgarian coins, but that is flat-out wrong. UNESCO deals principally with restrictions on trade that should apply to “important” cultural property whose export would constitute an “appreciable impoverishment” of the national cultural heritage and defines “cultural property” as items that are “specifically designated” by a State Party as being “important" -- which, in the case of coins, Bulgaria has not done. And as you and the intellectually impoverished commentator knows, the US, and other countries, are bound only to the specifics of their own implementing laws, not to the general terms of UNESCO. Any view to the contrary is mendacious poppycock.

Some of your readers appear to be willfully ignorant of UNESCO, and of the laws governing US compliance with UNESCO.

Warm regards for your forum, which is always interesting.


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

Arthur, Barford cites Bulgarian law on his blog to support his views, but he does not mention that significant portions of this law (which whas rammed through by the Communists when they were in power) were struck down by Bulgaria's Constiutional Court.

For some reason, he also thinks you are from Virgina.

Anonymous said...

Paul Barford thinks a lot of things. None one of them worth mentioning or considering. He is a man without a country.

Cultural Property Observer said...

Arthur Houghton asked me to post this additional comment:

Peter, yes, well, who cares what the fellow thinks, really? I suggested intellectual impoverishment, so what is one to expect? Fellows like this, people of many words and little distinction, don't read very well and tend to entangle themselves in a morass of illogic of their own making. It is predictable, and laughable.

And worth ignoring. The dogs may bark, but the caravan moves on.

For your interest, I would like to expand on my earlier thought that countries that allow an open market in antiquities forfeit the right to claim ownership of them. To this I would add that countries that knowingly engage in the destruction of their own cultural heritage cannot complain if it is taken away from them. China, which continues to systematically destroy its ancient past through aggressive development, is a prime example, but I would have to add Turkey, Italy, and a bunch of other countries that allow and even encourage public and private construction on top of ancient archaeological sites -- or, like Afghanistan under the Taliban, simply set out to destroy their own historic past. Can you think of any reason why such undeserving states should claim ownership of the very material that they willfully allow to be obliterated? Our own archaeological community, of course, treats the willful destruction of national heritage as a dark secret that must never be mentioned lest it give offense. For shame.

Perhaps a new UNESCO resolution is needed here, one that would allow the divestment of cultural material from countries that act to destroy it. In view of the importance of the matter and with the thought that the idea can get real traction in certain political quarters, I have begun to some soundings among friends in Washington with a view to rewriting UNESCO.

Best regards and warm wishes,


Cultural Property Observer said...

A collector friend also asked me to post for her:

Hello, Peter....

I have been reading your blog faithfully, and would like to make a comment or two.

When the topic lasts a few days, very often the replies contain information that should be developed further on their own, but may be buried in longer responses to your original post.

I know your blog is read widely throughout the United States by interested parties, including collectors, archaeologists and government officials, as well as the foreign countries mentioned in the posts.

An example today would be Arthur Houghton's comments, mentioning UNESCO, as well as the "sanctioned" foreign government destruction of sites for infrastructure. Also your exchanges with Jason Felch about collecting and the legitimacy of undocumented objects is a vital and ongoing area for discussion.

Your blog provides an important venue for these issues, but I wonder if you might consider a parallel set of web pages for issues of particular importance that deserve special attention . It seems to me that they would be read carefully by people interested in cultural property matters, and a parallel blog would then allow you to ignore the irrelevant and sometimes silly comments by others that distract from the subject.

Thank you for providing a platform for open discussion of these important issues.