Friday, 17 September 2010

The Public reaction to the Greek Antiquity Import Control Request

In a few days the State Department will be closing the public submissions facility on the website for commenting on the request from Greece to curb US imports of ancient artefacts illegally exported from Greece. This is the first time the comments have been made available to the public, and one can spend a long time reading through them and learning about what various groups feel about the heritage and the measures taken to preserve it. As such, it is a useful resource for students of heritage studies.

Of course that is not its primary use, it is to gather public opinion for deliberations by the CPAC on Greece's request. Now it is obvious that every member of the committee is unlikely to read every single submission themselves. What normally happens in such cases is that somebody works through them, weeds out the nonsense and off-topic ones, picks out a few well-argued ones (quotable quotes for the final report) and summarises the contents of the rest in a report that the committee reads. "85% of respondents felt that... because... Mr Jones of Huxley Mass expressed what many felt when he writes wrote that....". Probably this task will go to an intern.

What are they going to make of these submissions? The pattern of the dynamics of these submissions is really interesting. Between the 26th August and 2nd September there were 105 submissions. Every single one of them was yammering on about coins and nothing else. Every single one of the opposed the imposition of any curbs on the imports of illegally exported coins. Almost every single one of them was recognisably written according to two (similar) templates, containing the same points. Boring. Remarkably many of them were written in the imperative voice, "you must/must not do this". In the post below I discuss a rather atypical one by a Chris Becraft "American Citizen & Free Man" that seems unlikely to impress. I do hope that one is printed out for the CPAC as an example of one of the ones that did not follow the ACCG and CNG templates.

From about the 7th September we see a general decline in the percentage of such submissions to about ten a day, until 16th September when they are a mere trickle compared with the other submissions. In all there have been so far about 200 coiney "we want coins illegally exported from Greece to be allowed to be imported into the US" submissions.

It was a bit worrying that in those first few days we saw very few submissions made by non-coineys. As soon as the public submissions facility was opened there was an immediate surge of stereotypical knee-jerk responses by the collectors of dugup ancient coins which in fact are based on a total misconception of what the Greek request is about. This then dies down (perhaps as it was gradually realised that once again the dealers' lobby had not been entirely honest about what the Greek request was actually about). The first submissions by non-coineys began appearing only from the end of the first week in September.

Since then however there has been a growing swell of submissions by the American public concerned about the preservation of the archaeological sites of Greece from looting (in other words based on an appreciation of what the underlying purpose of the request is). Already these have equalled in number the coiney naysaying ones. Yesterday their number was almost 100% of the submissions made, the culmination of a trend which has been developing over the past week. There are currently 411 public submissions.

But its not just a quantitative change, its also a qualitative change. The people supporting the Greek request are on the whole clearly writing from their own hearts what they think and feel is right. The use of templates produced by people telling them what to write is by no means as obvious as in the case of the coineys (though like coin dealers the AIA has given some hints about what topics contributors might address when expressing their support for the request of the Greek government). It is interesting to note the different style of the posts, the supporters of the Greek proposal are writing requests rather than posing demands like the coineys. The motivation given too is of interest. US coineys suggest they want to buy illegally exported coins out of an interest in history, but almost every person supporting the Greek request also stresses their interest in history, but they talk about visiting the places and wanting to see them in untouched (unlooted - one person said 'desecrated') form. They write about a passion for history which they express by reading about it in books based on archaeological research and so on.

This emphasis on travel in the supporters' submissions makes another contrast clear; to indulge in their experience of the past, the coineys want to sit at home and have the stuff fall into their laps and they are not a bit interested in where it comes from (or how), the supporters of the Greek request are prepared to make the effort and to get their experience of the past by visiting and taking an interest in the sites. There was a touching one from a couple that had always intended to visit these places and kept putting it off, until now they realise that they are too old and ill to do it, but they support the Greek request so there will be a chance for their children to visit unlooted sites. (They do not indicate that they would buy looted coins to make up for their inability to visit Greece themselves.) Of course money is spent both in buying looted coins and travel. In one case however, the money goes into supporting the legitimate Greek economy through tourism, in the other the money goes into the pockets of Greek criminals.

UPDATE (20/9/10): Well, it seems the coiny we-want-illegal-export-five-mantra-chanters have reactivated. This morning there were over six hundred comments posted up on the website, this afternoon its 880 and rising [by the close of the day it was 915]. Compared to Friday's posts, there is a greater proportion of coineys coming forward to repeat what they've been told to say by the dealers. Over and over again. (I've lost count how many, and can't be bothered). There must have been a big auction of looted coins somewhere which kept them busy on Friday, but after exhortations on the numismatic forums (and Peter Tompa's "shock-horror revelations" alleging behind the scenes "manipulation" - Greek Embassy Urges U.S. Archaeologists to Join AIA in Writing CPAC in Support of MOU) they are busy knee-jerking away... Some poor intern is going to have a headache sorting through that lot.

(Wayne Sales has submitted three - against the 'regulations', shame on you, sir)

Vignette: writing about feelings about the archaeological heritage and the illegal trade in items ripped from it.

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