Sunday 24 February 2013

German police return smuggled artifacts to Kosovo

Some rather vague reports are emerging about the return to Kosovo of some antiquities by Germany (Nebi Qena, 'German police return smuggled artifacts to Kosovo', Associated Press, Feb. 22, 2013). The seven Vinca period (Neolithic) artefacts, including figurines and a small bowl, were unexpectedly found in a German police raid in the historic Höchst district of Frankfurt, during "an unrelated investigation against two Serbs" seven years ago.
Police in central Germany found them in 2005 during a separate undisclosed investigation, discovering the pieces in a sports bag belonging to two Serbs. It is not clear how they were brought out of the country, but authorities believe they were meant for sale to private collectors. "Most likely they had been illegally transferred to Germany," Memli Krasniqi told The Associated Press. There was no registry for the items and it took investigators years to authenticate them and confirm they belong to Kosovo. [...]  Eckhard Laufer, the German police officer who found the seven artifacts, would not give details on the original investigation saying only it "had nothing to with the traffic of cultural heritage." The investigation into the provenance of the artifacts began in 2007, he said.

 A few more details are given by AFP Wire Service ('Germany returns lost ancient artifacts to Kosovo', 22 February 2013) and in another Associated Press article: 'Ancient artifacts found during German police raid returned to Kosovo' February 22, 2013.

Kosovo lost a lot of artefacts when ethnic Albanians fought a separatist war against Serbia in 1998-99 and it is possible that this is the context of the smuggling of these artefacts to Germany. The conflict ended after NATO's 78-day bombing in 1999 that eventually drove out the Serbian forces who had been fighting the Albanian guerillas, paving the way for Kosovo to proclaim independence in 2008. During these bombing raids, Serbia had relocated some 1,200 artifacts from Kosovo's main museum to Belgrade  (Kosovo's culture minister Memli Krasniqi said "Serbia stole" them). Serbia rejects Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence and ownership of the artefacts is still hotly debated, and Kosovo has pressed for their return.

UPDATE 28th Feb 2013:
Samarkeolog 'Germany’s return of conflict antiquities to Kosovo – looting and murder details unknown'
[...] Hessen Police High Commissioner (and ‘looting expert [Raubgrabungsexperte]‘) Eckhard Laufer ‘would not give details’ about the original raid, he would only say that it ‘had nothing to with the traffic of cultural heritage‘ [...] And Hessian Radio (Hessischer Rundfunk (@hronline)) further revealed that the original investigation was a ‘murder case [Mordfall ermittelte]‘ from October 2005; but it affirmed that ‘the felony and the archaeological finds had nothing to do with one another [...]'. So, the murder was not the result of an antiquities deal gone wrong or infighting amongst the antiquities trafficking team...
 "According to the Hessian Ministry of Science and Art, 'based on the circumstances and the law, it can be assumed, with an almost certain probability, that the objects come from illegal excavations [Aufgrund der Sach- und Rechtslage ist davon auszugehen, dass die Gegenstände mit an Sicherheit grenzender Wahrscheinlichkeit aus Raubgrabungen stammen]‘. (Update: 28th February 2013.)"
UPDATE 5th March
Samarkeolog again: 'Germany’s return of conflict antiquities to Kosovo: unanswered questions' Conflict antiquities 5th March, 2013.

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