|Hey, that's AMERICAN!|
Give our stuff back, furriners
The Washington-based Holocaust Art Restitution Project (“HARP”) has called “shameful” and “tragic” the refusal by the French “Conseil des Ventes” ("Board”) to suspend a Paris auction sale of sacred masks made by the Hopi and Navajo tribes.
The Board held that the Hopi tribe [...] have no legal capacity or standing to pursue any cultural claim in France, setting the stage for the Paris market to become a safe haven for any indigenous cultural property. [...] This dismissive denial of access to justice flies in the face of the progress made in international law by all tribes and indigenous peoplesThe American organization dramatises the decision ("it means that neither the Hopi tribe nor any Native American tribe has any legal existence under French law"). Indeed they do not. US legislation (e.g., 'the Indian (sic!) Reorganization Act' of 1934) does not automatically oblige foreign governments to anything (in the same way as US antiquity dealers refuse to acknowledge the automatic applicability of foreign cultural property laws to them). HARP and Mr Ciric can flap as much as they like, what is sauce for the American goose is surely sauce for the European gander.
The whole thing boils down to insufficient legislation on the American side. If the USA, ratifying the 1970 UNESCO Convention had deigned to actually do what it says and institute export licence regulations on cultural property being exported from the US (even if it defines specific classes covered and not covered), then the absence of such licences would be grounds for stopping the auction - or at least better grounds than "we say this is wrong, some of us want this back". Against what criteria would the US lawyer have the French assess whether something is "smuggled" if the nation from which it came refuses to adopt any system of documenting legal export of this type of cultural property? What extra-legal criteria would Mr Ciric suggest the French apply, and why?
The Hopi have no separate legal status in France, but could easily sort this out 'the American way' by arranging the signing of an MOU with the French government in the same way as the US government would ask the French to sign an MOU with them to regulate the import of archaeological objects (such as ancient coins) pillaged from French archaeological sites. This is a matter between the Hopi and Navajo and Washington, not the Hopi and the government of France.
Far from this "decision should shock everyone’s conscience", what it should do is to prod the Americans into looking more carefully at their own cultural policies and stop moaning that others will not do for them what they only very grudgingly often do for others (there are some 195+ countries in the world, the US currently has cultural property MOUs with seventeen of them - France is not one of those favoured countries).
More drama-queen histrionics from HARP:
"This decision creates a tragic precedent and sets the stage for France to become a safe haven for any cultural property originating with indigenous peoples worldwide".How many "tribal art" dealers are there in the US? How many of them restrict their offerings so as not to include "any cultural property originating with indigenous peoples worldwide"? Do US authorities oversee them to the degree Mr Ciric demands the French should be regulating due diligence of French sellers? Or is the American lobbyist (like all his fellows) demanding that the world cowtow to US interests and do much more for them in an unequal partnership than the US is prepared to do in its own art and antiquities dealings? That is of course a wholly rhetorical question.