Thursday, 6 December 2012

Cultural Property Research Institute President:"Encourage Corruption in Artefact Source Countries"

There is clearly more that divides America and the cultures of western Europe than just a stretch of salty water, there is a vast difference in mentalities and what is considered acceptable behaviour. Peter Tompa quotes the President of the Santa-Fe based Cultural Property Research Institute Arthur Houghton III who has apparently suggested that foreign "corrupt customs officials and museum directors" should be encouraged to supply US collectors and museums with cultural property:
What could possibly be better than to have private collectors buy up material that corrupt officials want to sell [...]? I suggest the creation of a large private acquisition fund that will provide an inducement for corrupt source country officials to find more material to sell, that would bring more interesting objects into our own hands.
His idea is that through such exploitation of illicit sources, the paternalistic neo-colonialist US collector will "keep them for posterity or donation to museums (say in the US), that will treasure them, exhibit them, make them available for scholars, and make certain they do not deteriorate due to inattention and bad care" by the Careless Oriental Gentlemen from whom they are taken. This is another expression of that disturbing mental picture people in the USA that comes through in all these discussions that they and their museums are uniquely entitled to be the sole guardians of the world's cultural heritage and that end justifies the means.

In what way is encouraging somebody to do something illegal (like officials selling artefacts that do not belong to them) for money not a reprehensible act in itself? Yet the CPRI President is suggesting precisely that, not only to get hands on artefacts he may already have access to, but "provide an inducement for corrupt source country officials to find more material to sell". That certainly comes over as an extremely irresponsible thing to say.  I don't know how it is Tumbleweed Town Santa Fe, but over here encouraging corruption by offering money (to corrupt) is punished. Americans who see nothing wrong with such an idea would do well to remember if they come here, that in Poland anyone found paying or even offering a bribe to an official is as liable for jail as any person accepting it.

Perhaps this lies behind the position of the US in the ranking of the Transparency International's 2012 Corruption Perception Index. It is about perceptions, in some countries citizens when asked will point to situations which they consider corruption, which over the other side of the ocean are accepted as something relatively normal. 

I would also say that any president of any kind of real research institute over here was found making such public suggestions, he'd not remain president for long - even though he may claim when the statement is challenged that he was "drunk at the time and only joking".

Vignette: Top:  Doing business in America?  Bottom, "I do not give, don't accept bribes" sticker from a Polish media campaign a while ago. 

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