American collectors and dealers' lobbyists don't seem to get it. Thick as planks the lot of them. They are constantly banging on about how the US "should not repatriate" stolen artefacts to countries like Greece (their current bête noire) when the 'natives' "cannot look after them" (for example totally prevent them being stolen by armed raiders). Typical of the sort of comment is this one from Bailey and Ehrenbergs' Peter Tompa:
'Greece in Meltdown; Archaeologists in Denial' [...] The Greek financial meltdown has led to further cuts in Greece's already poorly funded cultural establishment [...] Yet, it's business as usual in the archaeological blogosphere. Bash the collectors and museums. Call for more repatriations.Let us be clear that what the United States (which quite clearly is all that concerns Welthaupstadt-Washington-based Tompa here) is "repatriating" are objects which are seized under US law because they are illicit (in the eyes of US law). Recovered stolen property, artefacts detected in the process of being smuggled into the country and suchlike.
The 1970 UNESCO Convention, the implementation of which US dealers in certain types of dugup artefacts are kicking, is called the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. The word "repatriation" does not occur in the title (nor, indeed the body of the text of the Convention's 26 articles). The series of administrative processes to which dealers' lobbyists like Tompa and Welsh so strongly and vociferously object are intended - as it says on the box - to combat the ILLICIT trade in antiquities.
So yes, let us bash collectors who do not do anything much to avoid buying illicit antiquities, whose carefree self-centred behaviour allows the illicit trade to flourish. Let us bash museums that do the same. Why should we not?
So, instead of merely "repatriation" of the proceeds, I'd like to see the US doing more to haul those with illicit antiquities in their possession, or found to have been dealing in them up in front of a judge, have their perp-walk photos in an orange jumpsuit in all the papers. Let's have their names. Let culture crime be treated as what it is, a crime against 'humanity', stealing from all of us. Let those found to be involved be sent somewhere where the US authorities by the various subtle or not so subtle (legal we are assured) means at their disposal do their best to find out the names of their accomplices. Let them too then face justice. This is not just about Good Ol' Uncle Sam giving back the proceeds of a crime to some of its victims with a patronising smile and the obligatory scripted cultural pep-talk speechette. Let Tompa and Welsh and all the rest of the ACCG and their hangers on realise this is about fighting a crime. One which, if they tell the truth about their own beliefs, motivations and mores, one would have thought they'd care a lot more about seeing prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
But no, for them it seems it is all about stolen artefacts being taken away from the US market where they cannot get them and going back abroad. Who is the real Black Beast here? Who here is "in denial"?
Vignette: Collectors' bete noire (drawing copyright Pierrick Martinez)