Monday, June 27, 2016

Germany's Controversial Cultural Heritage Law Passes Lower House

Germany's controversial cultural heritage law has passed  the lower house of the German Parliament, apparently with opposition parties abstaining from voting on the measure.

The German Government hopes the upper house will take up the measure before recess on July 8th.

While additional regulation was probably inevitable, the assumption that an artifact is "stolen" because a dealer or collector cannot produce an export permit from a postulated "country of origin" where an artifact was made hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago brings back bad memories of Germany's totalitarian past.

So, small wonder the law lacks popular support.  Rather, the restrictions against collecting appear to be a special interest measure being pushed by the the German Federal Foreign Office (which--like our own State Department-- views repatriation as a "soft power" opportunity, domestic interests be damned), the German Archaeological Institute (a Federal Foreign Office entity, whose members depend on excavation permits from source countries to excavate),  and a small group of  countries with cultural nationalist pretensions (mostly undemocratic or even dictatorial regimes that view anything "old" as state property).

Germany's coalition government is already deeply unpopular due to its mishandling of the economy, immigration, and the Greek bail-out. 

Hopefully, Brexit (which was voted on the same day) and what it says about the people's distrust of  government "experts" has scared the politicians enough that at even this late date, Germany's upper house will consider the due process rights of Germans before requiring such non-existent documentation. 

After all, Germany's ancient coin and antiquities trade is not only good for Germany's economy, but it helps encourage people to people contacts and appreciation of other cultures. 

Image:  Monika Grutters, Germany's Cultural Minister, pitching her "soft power" initiative


Unknown said...

Most of the cultural goods in private hands, specially in oldest antiques collections, have not provenance documents.
How to demonstrate the provenance?

Cultural Property Observer said...

You write: Hopefully, Brexit (which was voted on the same day) and what it says about the people's distrust of government "experts" has scared the politicians enough that at even this late date Germany's upper house will consider the due process rights of Germans before requiring such non-existent documentation.

I cannot offer comment upon this German matter, but as a Brit who voted Brexit in large part to show my distrust of experts - who I believe are ultimately too politically driven - perhaps my own thoughts are of interest?

The “little Englander” epithet was thrown about here during the Brexit campaign in a rather thoughtless way, as a mere term of abuse, without much thought being given to its association with widespread discontent, and indeed UK government policy, in the late 19th century. As far as I can tell nobody at all linked this historical ‘little Englander’ matter directly to numismatics – but it seem to be a plain that the schism between the Royal Numismatic Society and the British Numismatic Society in 1903 was driven in good part by anti-expert ‘little Englander’ sentiments in the breakaway BNS group (see the Carson History of the RNS pp. 20-4 (link below)*

This upswelling of distrust in experts was of course by no means an exclusive British matter, just over a century back – paralleled for instance in the USA in the challenge to conventional politics by William Jennings Bryan. This too seems to have had, ultimately, a numismatic component of sorts, for instance in the popular stage play “Wizard of Oz” subtly pushing an anti-gold agenda, and more directly in the work of independent minded numismatists such as Alexander Del Mar. A few years back the World Bank toyed with the idea of an exhibition revisiting the populist anti-expert monetary stance associated with “Wizard of Oz” at its Washington Money Museum installation, (an interesting plan which apparently ultimately failed - for reasons I never understood)

Popular opinion is inevitably a curate’s egg – at best only ‘good in parts’. However, viewing anti-expert attitudes connected to numismatics, as they were expressed today, contrasted with a century back, I cannot help feeling that an expensive and rapidly expanding higher education system in the intervening period has led to a population that is in many ways less sophisticated and open minded than it once was.

Rob Tye, York, UK (independent scholar)


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