Thursday 9 February 2012

US Support for Yanukovych's Government Spills over into (lack of) Cultural Property Debate

This is how Ukraine treats the political opposition. This is a photo of Julia Tymoshenko in her Kiev jail cell after her recent political show trial organized by pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych. She is reported by her family to be seriously ill and mistreated (for example she is deprived of sleep like US Guantanamo prisoners because the light in her cell is never turned off) and she has been refused access to medical treatment. The Polish government recently pledged support for her family's efforts to appeal the conviction which many see as wholly politically motivated.

Yanukovych promised to revive the Ukrainian economy if elected, he has not done so, things are getting worse. In a diplomatic cable which was leaked by Wikileaks, the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine in 2006 reported back to the DoS that he had learnt that Yanukovych’s party is partly composed of “pure criminals" and "criminal and anti-democracy figures". One would have thought that this is the kind of government that the United States would not be having any truck with. Not so.

The Museum of Russian (sic) Art in Minneapolis, Minnesota is currently hosting an exhibition of "Antiquities from Ukraine: Golden Treasures and Lost Civilizations" (October 1, 2011 - February 19, 2012). Artefacts "dating from the Neolithic age to the Byzantine (sic) era, unearthed in present-day Ukraine" are presented in the exhibition of "this private collection from Kyiv, Ukraine" in conjunction with Yanukovych's government and "The Museum of National Cultural Heritage PLATAR".

Note the name of this "Museum". Elsewhere we read:
The amazing PlaTar Collection, showcased in Ancient Ukraine, covers at least six thousand years of Ukrainian history! The organizers hope the exhibit will introduce the U.S. to the wonders of Ukraine, from the little-known Neolithic Trypilian culture through the medieval Kyivan Rus’—a remarkable historic foundation for the modern nation-state of Ukraine.
we recall that US collectors state that private collecting of antiquities is a way to combat "nationalism(s)". Yet here we have a private collection which does precisely the opposite. It is interesting too that it is being promoted by (and is promoting) the government which came to power declaring it was going to "fight Ukrainian nationalism".

The PlaTar Museum is of course nothing of the sort. It is the private collection of the late Serhiy Platonov, a successful businessman and Serhiy Taruta, chairman of the Board of Directors of the Industrial Union of Donbas Corporation and a friend of the Platonov family. Ukraininan archaeologists maintain that the majority of the archaeological artefacts included in this collection came onto the market from so-called "Black Archaeology", in other words illegal looting of archaeological sites. By buying them, these two collectors maintain "saved them from being sold abroad" (but how many other artefacts from the same looting they they did not see or want vanish into countless foreign collections?). What they were doing however was financing the continuance of the looting. Besides the scale of the damage done to the archaeological record of Ukraine, it is no great comfort that the objects passed into state hands when Platonov died.

This exhibition was shown previously in early 2011 in the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Nebraska, whence it travelled to the Houston Museum of Natural Science, Houston, Texas (June - Oct 2011), followed by The Museum of Russian Art, Minneapolis, Minnesota. So it is getting quite a bit of exposure and earning Yanukovych's government political kudos, business orders and - most probably quite a bit of cash. All this at a time when in the Smithsonian there was debate about whether exhibitions of this type involving - in their case salvaged and not - even looted material should go ahead in American museums. As far as I can see, there has been absolutely no debate in America about the display of items from the PlaTar collection in US museums. Perhaps there are political reasons why the US can oppose the treatment of the global archaological/cultural heritage by the Indonesian government with more firmness than in the case of Yanukovych's Ukraine?

There is not much point the AAMD holding out for more museum loans in return for playing nice and not buying unlawfully exported artefacts when it turns out that US museums are quite happy to mount exhibitions of material which comes from private collections which includes material coming from "Black Archaeology" in its collections. If they are willing to show this kind of material, and the US public is happy to go along to such exhibitions without a murmur, then what is the point of any bilateral cultural property agreements at all?

How ironic that Julia's imprisonment is due to alleged corruption, yet in a country with such a depth of poverty, stinking rich businessmen who are accused of buying enormously valuable and potentially illegal artefacts (like a number of other collectors in Ukraine in recent years) not only were never properly investigated, but are now being praised by the same government. That is not corruption? Let the Ukrainian government publish the full collecting history of every object sent in that exhibition to the US.

I wrote - too briefly it now seems - on the PlaTar Collection in my article 'commerce de vestiges archeologiques dans l'est de l'Europe' in "Halte au Pillage!" (Paris 2010)

Photo of Jailed Julia (from an article about her daughter appearing before US senators with an appeal for help). Smiling Julia from forumua from the days before she was imprisoned like Rapunzel in Yanukovych's prison system.


LG said...

Dear Paul,

It is possible to obtain a pdf of your article mentioned in the post?

My email adress is: lassanyi.g (a)

Wit best wishes,

Gábor Lassányi

Paul Barford said...

Hi, not really. I plan to republish it in English, updated a little but have not worked out where yet. Unfortunately the French managed to lose the entire bibliography, there are references in the text but the bibliography was left out of the volume...


Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.