Sunday 15 July 2012

Obeying Uncle Sam

In the post above I discuss "Anonymous Whistleblower's" criticism of his own country for not Obeying Uncle Sam ('Cyprus in Breach of MOU with US?' July 14, 2012). In order to put those comments into perspective, I'd like readers to take a closer look at the text of the 2002 MOU created by the Bush government (tomorrow is the tenth anniversary of its signing). Just who do the Americans think they are here?

In this document, the US agrees to do what it should be doing anyway as a state party to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, that is restrict the movement of artefacts exported from other countries in contravention of the principles laid down in the Convention (Art 3).

Here though the US declares it will only do this in the case of artefacts which are the property or former property of and exported from the single country named  in the MOU, and ONLY material of the types mentioned on the (US-written) "designated list". That in itself is in total violation of the spirit of the Convention. But there is more, the US undertakes to do this on condition that the other State Party agrees to do what America tells it to do.

This is, ostensibly, a bilateral agreement. What does the US promise to do in return? Simple, virtually nothing. The glib vagueness of diplomatic bla-bla outlines just two vague requirements the US says it will fulfil: "Representatives of the Government of the United States of America [...]  will take appropriate steps to publicize this Memorandum of Understanding" [like just publish it in the Federal Register?]. The Government of the United States of America "will use its best efforts to facilitate assistance to Cyprus in cultural resource management strategies and training, as appropriate under existing programs in the public and/or private sectors" and "to support bi-communal activity regarding cultural preservation on the island and, to the extent possible, make all Cypriots aware of this Memorandum of Understanding". Note that. They plan to make all the swarthy skinned islanders in Yurope aware of this Memorandum of Understanding [i.e., of how "good" the Americans are?]. The authors of the text however betray the fact that they see no need whatsoever for potential buyers back in the States to know about the MOU's existence.  So how many scholarships have the US awarded so that "all Cypriots can be engaged" in preserving the heritage of their land at the bidding of Uncle Sam?

As Anonymous Whistleblower notes there are as many as EIGHT requirements for the Cypriot government to fulfil, some of them phrased in a much more concrete manner than what the US holds itself liable for. Apart from taking "appropriate steps to publicize this Memorandum of Understanding":
B. the Government of the Republic of Cyprus will seek [...]
C. The Government of the Republic of Cyprus will systematically continue [...]
D. The Government of the Republic of Cyprus will make every effort to discourage [...]
E. The Government of the Republic of Cyprus will use its best efforts to develop [...]
F. The Government of the Republic of Cyprus will use its best efforts to allocate [...]
G. The Government of the Republic of Cyprus will continue to permit [...]
H. [The Government of the Republic of Cyprus] will use [its] best efforts to support [...]   
Eight specific demands addressed to one side as opposed to two vague desiderata for the other, not exactly a very equitable or respectful agreement. The text shows quite clearly the attitudes of those drawing it up to the other nation - one that is supposed to be a partner in a bilateral agreement. This is a very unequal agreement, indeed a condescending and humiliating one. Surely the greatest disrespect is shown by the fact that the US actually impose conditions on making sure that the objects bought and sold within its borders have come from legal sources.

The imperious stating of demands what other countries should do within their own borders to their own cultural heritage on the basis of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act is already a serious imposition. All the more so in cases, like conditions E and F, which have absolutely no relation to the subject matter of the Convention, but refer to other matters (which here in Europe include those regulated by Conventions to which the US is not party). The imposition of such conditions by the US does not take into account that there are other ways of 'doing heritage' than the American way, and the attempted imposition these conditions is especially galling when taken in the context that the US is hardly at the forefront of doing many of the things it demands here of the other party (inventorying private collections for example).

What is more, as the CCPIA sets out, the CPAC will be monitoring how well the other side is keeping to the agreement, and reporting on it. There is no mention anywhere in the Act that they will be examining how well the US is adhering to its side of the bargain. No report is due to anyone about the actual implementation of the MOU by one side. But after reading the actual wording of the MOU as drafted by the US, I doubt that will surprise anyone.

There is of course no need whatsoever for any of this. Some of these points contained in the US demands are made by the UNESCO Convention itself and other international documents (including some to which the US is not party). As I have pointed out, some of the American demands on the Cypriot government overstep what the scope of the Convention requires. All the agreement actually need say is that  there will be cultural property cooperation between the two nations, with dialogue, exchange and assistance - and as part of this the Americans will ("of course") adhere to Art 3 of the Convention. Won't they?

I think we can see very clearly here why so few nations are in any hurry to go to the United States cap-in-hand asking for an MOU to do what the US should be doing anyway without having to be asked. Only about a dozen countries in 200 have done so, many refuse to, and I think we can see here why. Any Polish Minister of Culture that would agree to signing such a document which implies such outside interference with what are our own internal affairs, is likely to get the tyres of his car slashed at the least, and most probably demands for his dismissal  - and I think he would pretty soon find himself looking for another job.

The 1970 UNESCO Convention was not written in order that one nation (no matter how "exceptional" they perceive themselves to be) to use it to impose its own will (and exhibit its own power) over another. That is absolutely contrary to the principles that underlie it and underlie the United Nations. As in the case of its recent withdrawal of funding from UNESCO itself, the US acts as though it was totally unaware of this. I am of the opinion that if the US intends to continue its 1980s policy of using the Convention for its own external political needs, with no regard for the principles it embodies (except Art 9), it would be far better for everyone that it has the decency to withdraw from it. They can rename the CCPIA however they want ("America's Grudging Condescension towards the Cultural Property of the Rest of the World Act" would be a good title), but the kind of demands we see framed in MOUs like this one simply create a damaging impression. Is this really what the citizens of America (as opposed to the minority group of dealers in dugup ancient coins) want? Is that how they want their country to be seen by the international community?  


Cultural Property Observer said...

I would have thought you would support efforts to ensure that Cyprus care for its own cultural heritage. Your response instead seems to confirm these MOU's are little more than special interest programs for archaeologists and their efforts to monopolize control the past.

Paul Barford said...

You obviously are blind to the main point. There is, I am sure even you can see, a difference between supporting another country's efforts to protect its archaeological heritage and unilateral dictation from outside of how they are to go about it.

It is not America's place to "ensure" that any of us do anything, or dictate how we are to do it. Look after your own heritage first in the way you'd impose by these documents on others.

The MOU is not signed by any "archaeologists" but a US State Department official.

Cultural Property Observer said...

Not sure how a "bilateral agreement" is "unilateral" or how the fact that a State Department official signs the agreement changes the fact that the MOU only benefits a small group of archaeologists who also are the only group that shows demonstrable support for it.

Paul Barford said...

"Not sure how a "bilateral agreement" is "unilateral"
Well, you would not be, would you?

The agreement surely is intended to be of benefit to all who care about the heritage and want to see trade in archaeological items on one of the world's biggest markets for such things restricted to those of documented legitimate provenance.

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