Sunday, 17 July 2011

US-Greek Bilateral Cultural Property Agreement Signed

The US State Department has announced the signature of a bilateral cultural property agreement with Greece in the spirit of Article 9 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Cultural Property. As announced the idea of this is to "to Reduce the Incentive for Further Pillage of Greece's Cultural Heritage" - a tacit recognition that the market is the motor of pillage (the "collector=looter" notion so hated by collectors). The list of Greek antiquities of the Upper Paleolithic to the Late Byzantine period designated as protected under this latest US cultural property MOU will be announced shortly.

While this is a welcome move and indicates the willingness of the Obama government to clear (at least temporarily) the US market of illicitly-obtained antiquities, Greece is directly neighboured by four countries severely affected by ongoing looting and illegal trading of archaeological artefacts (Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Turkey) with whom the US does not have a specific cultural property MOU and through which and from which the US no-questions-asked antiquities market can and probably does import large numbers of freshly (and illegally) dugup artefacts for sale. [All four are states party to the Convention] This basically means that the 1983 US accession to the Convention does not actually reflect a commitment to help the global community as a whole fight the trade in illicitly obtained cultural property, and even less take a leading role in that. The US market is a voracious consumer of huge quantities of freshly dug up (or previously curated) antiquities. As such, it is disappointing that the US does not take a more active role as at least a partner in dealing in an effective and holistic manner with the plague of antiquity looting and smuggling. One wonders why the US is a state party of this convention at all if it only applies its measures selectively. Far more consistent would be to withdraw and rename the CCPIA.

Map: Greece (State Department)

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