Monday 5 December 2011

"The most amoral and dangerous individuals in the world"

"the most amoral and dangerous individuals in the world" is how a Californian dugup dealer characterises those who wish to impose restrictions on the import into the USA of archaeological and ethnographical artefacts without documentation of lawful export. In other words take away "from the longstanding and traditional rights of US collectors -- without any compensation whatsoever". Long-standing RIGHTS to import illicitly exported artefacts? Surely any such illusions ended when the USA became a state party to the 1970 UNESCO Convention back in 1983? What are these dealers thinking?

Peter Tompa continues his incessant moaning about how hard-done-by are US collectors (already in possession of a huge chunk of the above-ground resources of portable antiquities from all over the ancient world - but still want "more and more"). He attempts to assign "winners and losers" to the Greek Import Restrictions (restrictions, let us remind ourselves on illicitly exported items).

"Winners" according to Tompa are:
The Greek Cultural Bureaucracy ("poorly managed" and "corrupt")
The Greek Government ("poorly managed" and "corrupt")
"The Obdurate State Department Cultural Bureaucracy" ("obdurate", "entrenched")
"The AIA and its Archaeological Fanatics" ("anti-collecting", "fanatics")
"Wealthy Greek Collectors".

One wonders just how long the buffoonery of pretending that the archaeologists (institutional or otherwise) are all "fanatics" (was "radicals") who are to a man rabidly "anti-collecting" can persist. The evidence is very clear that the AIA is not against collecting per se, but - in line with US legislation since the early 1980s - against collecting of ILLICITLY exported cultural artefacts. No more, no less - and it is all in black and white for any dealer, lawyer or collector with more brain cells than my cat to check. Of course such nonsense suits well the yapping dogs that try to frighten, huddle and herd as many ovicaprid collectors onto the barren thistle patches of indignant opposition as possible, but it is not the truth. But then what evidence has there been from the ongoing dialogue of the deaf that dealers' lobbyists or collectors are even a bit concerned about the truth?

According to Tompa:
These fanatics hold that the only legitimate exchange of archaeological artifacts is a museum loan.
Well, since the law stipulates documentation of licit importation, it would be more truthful (see above) to say that they hold that the only legitimate exchange of archaeological artefacts is with documentation of licit export.

As for those "Wealthy Greek Collectors" (where the adjective wealthy magically become pejorative...). Surely there is a huge faultline running through the ACCG logic here. The whole point the collectors opposed to import controls are making is that the vast majority of the artefacts affected are too cheap (on the US market) for it to be at all "economical" to get documentation of licit origins and transfer. So they are not the kind of things one has to be inordinately "wealthy" to buy.

How shocking to the American psyche that:
Greek collectors will gain a competitive advantage over their American counterparts who can no longer import undocumented cultural goods.
They will stay in Greece, rather the best items being constantly and illegally siphoned off to a voracious and well-financed foreign market. How curious though that an American collector (and Peter Tompa, who is if I am not mistaken of Hungarian Jewish stock, collects dugup ancient Greek coins) feels he has MORE right to Greek cultural property than the citizens of that country (even if these items are illicitly exported?) and considers it a matter of regret that fellow collectors (though of a different nationality) will be able more easily to collect items which reflect their own cultural heritage.

For Tompa, the "losers" are:
"Greece's Cultural Patrimony" [too much stuff to look after as it is],
"The CPIA and the Process Congress Contemplated" back in 1983 (sic)
"The Small Businesses of the Antiquities and Numismatic trade" [who are now going to have to document licit export to allow legal import into the US: "This is particularly a problem for the small businesses of the numismatic trade". This is because the objects available for import are typically lacking such documentation]
"US Collectors" [who will be forced to buy material which has been licitly exported, rather than the other type that was on the market formerly].
"US Museums" who will not be able to carry on purchasing items without any kind of documentation of licit export [not, I think that they are likely to be wanting to in the coming years anyway].
"US Customs" [because they are going to have to do something connected with the fact that in 1983 the USA became a state party to the 1970 UNESCO Convention, too bad, but the idyll of US hypocrisy in this regard could not go on for ever]

What is not explained is the manner in which having mainly material which has passed scrutiny with regard to licit export on the US market as a matter of course is allegedly a "bad" thing for collectors, museums, and responsible (responsible) dealers. What is clear that the persons who have lost (not mentioned for some reason by Tompa) are the smugglers (possibly related in some way to organized criminal groups) and looters, who will have their US markets fundamentally curtailed by these measures if they are applied effectively by all involved. These people are on the losing side and among those who actively regret that we'd expect to find a number who are "amoral and dangerous". What nasty company the no-questions-asked antiquity dealers keep.

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