Saturday, 5 September 2009

Afghanistan - Bloedantiek

I think this has been on TV before (?) but on Sunday those who can get continental TV will be able to watch a Belgian documentary "Bloedantiek" by Peter Brems and Wim Van den Eynde. They descend into the dark world of the Afghan 'blood antiquities' and show how some Belgian antiquity dealers are indirectly financing the continued war in Afghanistan. They start off in an exclusive gallery in Brussels with a hidden camera. The dealer is very forthcoming and frank: "All these pieces were looted in Afghanistan,[...]"Every object which comes from Afghanistan is by definition stolen, if you have a problem with that... but you can not buy better". Well, obviously most of their clients have no problem with silly things like buying stolen goods and the business is quite lucrative it seems. From there the reporters go off to dusty Afghan villages to meet the people that dig up these things because middlemen in the towns will give them money to do so. There is a lot of cash to be made out of the no-questions-asked collectors in richer countries like the USA, UK, Belgium and Germany.

The Taliban too know that these antiquities can be used to raise a lot of cash for their cause from no-questions-asked buyers in the West. A major antiquities dealer Jalalabad admits: "It is true that the Taliban are in this business, that's only logical [...] we have information that they recently made a big discovery in Nimruz Province".

Export of antiquities from Afghanistan is strictly prohibited without going through the proper chanels, but the illegal export follows the established smuggling routes. "Often the pieces follow the same route as the heroin," says Axel Poels inspector of the Federal Police. "When we have intercepted a heroin shipment, we can also find Afghan antiquities in them". [I have discussed this on this blog here and here].

Antwerp antiquity dealer Liban Pollet points out that until recently, vendors of stolen antiquities in Belgium had a free hand. Shamefully, the 1970 UNESCO Convention only came into force in June, and the new regulations in Belgium require all documentation of origin to be registered with a notary or bailiff. The dealer points out though that this will not provide a solution "even if a seller knows that a piece of unlawfully obtained, there is no one competent to handle the case" (Sadly Belgium's legislation is not in the IFAR database and I cannot check what it actually says).

Let us recall how hard the antiquity dealing lobby in the USA fought to keep their free hand in trading Afghan antiquities after the US-led invasion. Let us recall the politicians that sold out to them and helped stall HR 915 presumably for the sake of a few more votes and got a piece of paper from the ACCG calling them "Friends of Numismatics".

'Panorama', Sunday, September 6 at 20.10 hours on Canvas.

Sofie vanlommel België draaischijf ‘bloedantiek’ Gazet van Antwerpen, 5/9/09

Photo: poor (really?) Afghan peasants (?) selling antiquities

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