Thursday 23 September 2010

Numbers, Numbers: Public Submissions on the Greek Cultural Property Request

A few days ago I presented the results of my study of what people were writing to the CPAC about Greece's request to the US to help with illegal exports of antiquities. On Friday 17th September there were 440 comments, about half of which were in favour of the request, half from coin collectors (alone) against. Over the weekend though it seems that the coin dealers mobilised collectors to begin a fresh onslaught and some 1060 comments resulted in the next three days. Unlike the posts of Friday - these posts were mostly against the proposal. Sampling suggests that over that weekend only c. 130 were 'for' and c. 930 against. On 21st (the day before the period for submissions closed) there was a drop in overall numbers from 474 to 222 and a slight improvement in the proportions. On 20th only 10% of the comments were for the proposal, on the 22nd 33% were. The full number of posts made on the 22nd may not be visible at the moment - the total is 1347 which means that 200 posts were added on the last day. This still means that the coineys have probably made somewhere in the region of 970 comments opposing the MOU as opposed to 377 US citizens and others in favour of restricting antiquity imports from Greece to those which have been legally exported.

I think both sides will be sorely disappointed with these figures. In the case of the Italy MOU, the coineys were claiming they'd mobilised some 1900 collectors to oppose it, the number of coineys taking part in such initiatives has now halved. In the case of the Italy MOU, the numbers on our side were not known. The United States of America has a population of 310 million - can it be true that in 2010 only c. 380 of them (about one in a million) think that the trade in their country of illegally exported artefacts from the Classical world is unacceptable? Perhaps we should not be surprised about this when a Federal judge reckons that looting archaeological sites on state-owned lands is "justifiable". Maybe America needs a Portable Antiquities Scheme to make people more aware of the issues. Mind you, the short time when the submissions could be submitted and the fact that the story seems not to have been covered by any national paper or mentioned by Glenn Beck would also account for most people in the US probably being completely unaware that this matter was in progress. How to get greater public participation in the future? Certainly I would not be in favour of the AIA or SAFE or any of the other groups working to help protect the archaeological heritage using the same shameless tactics of misinformation that the ACCG and coin dealers adopted here. That really gets the public debate nowhere at all.

Do the numbers matter? Do the CPAC actually pay much attention to these submissions, or is it just a charade they ritually enact so "the people" think they have a hand in government? The short "let's get it over with" timespan coupled with a lack of wider advertising suggests that getting a wide range of public responses is not at all important to the State Department. Do they even read them, or do their eyes glaze over the thirty ninth time they come across Peter Tompa's five points presented by a writer adopting an "Oj You!" tone towards the Committee and claiming to be discriminated against?

UPDATE: Both Peter Tompa on his blog"Coiney" Win in Comment Quest Exposes Greek MOU as Limited Special Interest Program {uncharacteristically even giving a specific link to my actual words) and Dave Welsh have drawn attention to the estimate of the proportions between supporters and detractors of the MOU. They blame the drop off in coiney contributions since the Italian MOU fax-bombing on the "cumbersome" website which they suggest is inferior to the V-Coins (sic) fax-wizard. Tompa notes:
given the exceptionally low level of discernable public support for the MOU, are such controversial new import restrictions and all the problems they visit on CBP, collectors, dealers and museums really worth it or is it time to negotiate a MOU collectors, dealers, museums and archaeologists can all live with?

And what form would that take? And what would its point be? In the end however it is not numbers that count, but the reasons why the MOU should be signed which matter and it is that which the CPAC is appointed to assess.

FURTHER UPDATE (28/9/10): John Hooker repeats my analysis, and comes up with a slightly lower figure (71.2% of 1347 is 960) of submissions in opposition to the MOU.

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