Saturday, 25 May 2013

Bulgarian Dugup Coin Seizure: The View from Washington

The United States of America including Wisconsin and Washington D.C. are a state party of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. Yet we have an authoritative statement from a Washington cultural property lawyer, member of the board of directors of the Cultural Property Research Institute:
"The US will only honor Bulgarian export controls if a MOU with Bulgaria is approved". 
There you are culture criminals and smugglers, carte blanche from Washington, just label the packages up properly (correct place of origin, proper value) and Bob's your uncle, a massive antiquities market open for you, thousands of dollars to be made, but then you knew that already didn't you? As Nathan Elkins has shown in several recent papers, the US ancient coin market today thrives largely because of the vast numbers of coins coming out of Bulgaria and the neighbouring regions that have been flooding into the USA since the early 1990s. It is no secret, even Ancient Coins for Education tell us "The vast majority of uncleaned material on the market at the present time [used in the project] comes from Eastern Europe - the "countries formerly known as Yugoslavia" and Bulgaria in particular". A number of US dealers have made a lot of money from this segment of the trade, the US inland revenue has been getting its cut from some of them. US collectors have been able to satisfy their acquisitive urges and quest for bragging rights by building up large collections of dugup ancient and Medieval hammered coins from these regions at reasonable cost.

"The US will only honor Bulgarian export controls if a MOU with Bulgaria is approved", but of course there are a number of people who are very interested in such an MOU not being signed, and keeping the US ignoring Bulgarian export controls on dugup antiquities. And that is what they call a "legitimate market"!


Cultural Property Observer said...

I think you need a recap on how US law and UNESCO interact:

Why should the US apply Bulgarian law? Do you also suggest that Bulgaria should apply US law?

Paul Barford said...

Do I? I think the main trouble here is you think I am talking ONLY about the law. The word you used was hono[u]r.

Yes, I think if somebody was exporting to a country something that US law says should not be being exported to that country (for example, certain types of computer systems, weapons, surveillance equipment - there are historical precedents) then, yes, I expect it would be good if that country helped the US to put a stop to that.

As I say, your country is a state party to a particular Convention, and I would say you either have the HONOUR to act accordingly (article 3) or have the HONOUR to withdraw and put an end to the pretence. Can you do that, stop pretending to be something you are not?

Paul Barford said...

"The US will ONLY honor Bulgarian export controls IF a MOU with Bulgaria is approved", despite being a state party to a Convention that obliges it to honour such laws.

Time for the US to withdraw from the Convention it regards as not obliging it to do anything its antiquity dealers do not want. Let the naysayers currently hiding behind anachronistic "laws" show themselves for the greedy grabbing parasites that they are.

Time to do the HONOURABLE thing.

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