Monday, August 24, 2015

Consider the Source

This blog is up front.  It reflects the views of collectors.  But that's not the case for major sources for claims about looting in Syria.  Each source has interests and agendas not always apparent from news coverage or archaeological blogs that rely on such information (often without clear attribution).    That's not to say what these sources say is necessarily 100% false.  Rather,  just that its always a good idea to consider the source in assessing the information.

The Assad Regime-- The Assad Regime is a major source of information for others, particularly archaeological blogs.  The problem is pure propaganda.   As Syrian government officials would have it, ISIS is always to blame for all damage to Syrian cultural patrimony.  In contrast, brave Syrian cultural officials are always doing their best to protect Syrian cultural patrimony from destruction and looting.  The latter may or may not be based on fact, but the former is pure nonsense.  ISIS is an awful plague on the people of Syria and its cultural patrimony, but Assad's military has done its fair share of bombing cultural sites into dust.  Moreover, the Syrian military has certainly been involved in looting and otherwise damaging the major sites of Palmyra and Apamea before they fell to rebels.  And, of course, let's not forget Assad is wholly responsible for crushing a largely peaceful movement and thereby starting a full fledged civil war.

UNESCO-  UNESCO is run by a former Bulgarian Communist (now Socialist) and its pronouncements reflect a state ownership approach that ignores the rights of individuals, ethnic and religious groups.  Not surprisingly, UNESCO supports repatriation of artifacts to Assad in the midst of a civil war despite the Assad regime's poor stewardship and even purposeful destruction of cultural artfiacts.

American Schools for Oriental Research (ASOR) and the State Department's Syrian Heritage Initiative--   Potential conflict of interest is the problem here.   The State Department awarded a $600,000 contract to ASOR, an organization that takes a dim view of private collecting.  Furthermore, the contract seeks to help raise public awareness about looting in war torn Iraq and Syria at the very same time both the State Department and ASOR are lobbying Congress to impose what amounts to permanent import restrictions on all Syrian cultural goods and create a new bureaucracy within the State Department.  Enough said.


Cultural Property Observer said...

Arthur Houghton asked me to add this:

"Then there's the undistinguished fellow in Warsaw with his virulent anti-American screeds. Who pays attention to him, who really cares? No thinking person, I'd suggest.

Best regards,


John H said...

Can leopards really change their spots? 'Consider the Source' you wrote but I would add, 'Consider the People - Carefully.'

Why one wonders, was the former communist, Bulgarian Irina Georgieva Bokova, ever elected to high office in UNESCO? Perhaps her appointment is proof that UNESCO is riddled with Red Flag wavers all bent on helping one another, internationally even, up the greasy pole as they did in the old days? Indeed, Bokova's UNESCO CV proudly boasts her communist past; "Irina Bokova joined the United Nations Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria in 1977," when Todor Zhivkov ruled Bulgaria’s communist roost.

Some had doubts about Bokova’s appointment raising questions about her past as the daughter of a member of the totalitarian communist elite. A former member of the Bulgarian Communist Party, Bokova is currently a member of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, its re-branded successor. What next, former henchmen of Pol Pot’s regime overseeing UNESCO’s agriculture policy?

Can this be the same Bulgarian regime - of which Bokova is evidently so proud - that in 1978 sent its assassins to London to murder - using a ricin-tipped umbrella – the émigré Bulgarian dissident writer and journalist Georgi Markov? You betcha life it is. According to former KGB general Oleg Kalugin, Markov’s murder was at the behest of Todor Zhivkov. Ten days before the Markov killing, they tried the same stunt (on the Paris metro) against another Bulgarian defector, Vladimir Kostov, who luckily survived. Agents of the Bulgarian secret police assisted by the KGB had previously made two previous attempts to kill Markov.

So how bad was life in Bokova's communist Bulgarian Utopia? Georgi Markov describing life under the totalitarian regime in his book, 'The Truth that Killed' gives more than a hint:-

"Today, we Bulgarians present a fine example of what it is to exist under a lid which we cannot lift and which we no longer believe someone else can lift...And the unending slogan which millions of loudspeakers blare out is that everyone is fighting for the happiness of the others. Every word spoken under the lid constantly changes its meaning. Lies and truths swap their values with the frequency of an alternating current...We have seen how personality vanishes, how individuality is destroyed, how the spiritual life of a whole people is corrupted in order to turn them into a listless flock of sheep. We have seen so many of those demonstrations which humiliate human dignity, where normal people are expected to applaud some paltry mediocrity who has proclaimed himself a demi-god and condescendingly waves to them from the heights of his police inviolability.”

In a toadying, grovelling, pitiful and toe-curlingly embarrassing defence of Bokova, one of private collecting's more tedious and vacuous critics - one who coyly admits to working in Poland’s (communist) Ministry of Culture assures us with ardent predictability that Bokova is, “…a very nice lady.” The only problem with that endorsement is his record of gilding the lily.

By contrast he then goes on to claim collectors are “simpletons” declining to name – again predictably - the data-base for the near-libellous assertion. If simpleton collectors really do exist, then to my mind, compared to some ignoble specimens of humanity who actively support, or who have supported regimes where Human Rights, freedom, and democracy, are alien concepts, are infinitely preferable.

That the US State Department awarded a $600,000 contract to ASOR, an organization that takes a dim view of private collecting suggests that perhaps not all the former comrades are working inside UNESCO. Is it any wonder then, that UNESCO takes the line it does on repatriation and collecting?

Speculation has it (and God forbid it’s true) this Bokova woman is in the running to be the next UN General Secretary in 2017.

Best wishes

John Howland