Saturday 26 July 2014

Hopi Masks in France: Dialogue with the Deaf

Cheerleading for US
Cultural Protection policies
It's bad enough having to discuss the notions of the airheads with metal detectors or ancient coin collections. I am naive enough to expect a little more from academic staff of US universities though. I posted on the Museum Security Discussion List a brief reaction to the objectionably-phrased self-promotional complaint that the French were not falling prostrate before the demands of a US-based group questioning the sales of some Native American objects. There was only one objection to my remarks, a rather defensive post from Dr Lucille A. Roussin (Adjunct Professor of Law, the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, a member of the Cultural Properties Legislation Committee of the Archaeological Institute of America and something big in the LCCHP) who begins patronisingly: "I suggest Mr. Barford read..." and citing a whole load of US legislation and cases, claiming that these showed that the U.S. has "sorted out the legal status of objects like these" but which instead appears to show that she'd not the foggiest what I'd written about. She is involved in Holocaust art activities and it is not clear what here relationship with Ori Z. Soltes, Ciric Law Firm, PLLC, or the Holocaust Art Restitution Project. Here is my reply, trying to set the record straight:
Dr Roussin,
Thank you for your comments. I do not think, however, you take my point. We are talking here about illicit export, aren't we? And you seem to want it to become a case of illicit import in France. But on what, precise, grounds?

But first, let's take a look at how US dealers, their lobbyists and US museums react to just such claims from foreign claimants (we might take as a good [bad] example the SLAM Ka Nefer Nefer mask - according to a US court in two places at once so "not stolen" and staying in the US). Time and time again we all observe how, when it comes to antiquities in particular, many US dealers are quite happy to flog as much stuff as they can get their hands on, their lawyers arguing quite openly that "no US law" is broken. I am sure you are well aware of the debate that's going on about the gap between practice and the law in the US at the moment - the latest from the "Committee on Cultural Policy", it is a serious problem.

My point is that Mr Ciric was bemoaning the fact that the "foreign authorities" would not recognize that these objects were "stolen and smuggled". Yet we have an international Convention of which both the US and France are states parties, and because of the failure of the US to do any of the things it stipulates which allows definition of US cultural objects as such (Art 5, 6, 7, 10a) then the French authorities had no legislative grounds to come to any other decision in the light of their own legal system. So yes, regretable, to be sure, but the US has not safeguarded items like this from this point of view (no export licencing system in place for such items for a start) - so to then attack the French over this seems a little unfair.

I suggest that if you want to enable the French Board to help the US next time this happens (and I think it will) then surely we/you need to start pressurising the US government to take another look at how the US is "implementing" the 1970 UNESCO Convention, with regard to US cultural property. [You might like to consider that since the US itself opts to implement the Convention selectively - calling on Art 9 - the US not having actually signed a bilateral cultural property MOU with France as part of its "implementation" of the Convention might not be irrelevant here either].

As we've all seen, the US is all too keen (in its Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act and its process of CPAC adjudication) to stand judge over the other State Parties, so it seems fair that we should be able to take a critical look at the US system too.

And I note you do not answer the point I made about the US not even having a rudimentary market regulatory system in place to equal the French organization Mr Ciric is criticising.
Paul Barford 
Her off-list reply indicates that the lady from the LCCHP has still not understood  why I assume that what Mr Cirik was discussing was a repatriation (and therefore illicit export/import) case. She's not understood my reference to Mr Pearlstein's points in the Committee on Cultural Policy "White Paper" (presented recently in a publication in her own institution) and for some reason seems to assume I've never looked at the LCCHP's website (duh...*). She tries to tell me that I don't know anything about the Ka Nefer Nefer case, which I venture to suggest I've done more reading and writing on than she seems to have done (and her own summary of it differs markedly from the actual facts of what happened!).

She then crowns it all by blurting out her opinion that the CPAC and the CCPIA "seem to be working very well". Well, I could not agree less about that last point, and I suggest I am not alone in that. What a loopy thing to say in 2014. The "CCPIA and CPAC" are doing bugger all about Syrian antiquities being sold this very day through US dealers.  And by the time the CPAC gets round to meeting about it, there is no telling what ISIS will have done.

To be honest Dr Roussin, that was not a very well informed or useful reply at all. That's probably why she says "I have no intention of getting into a dialogue with you on social media". No, probably not. She's happy telling me in patronising terms that I know nothing (metal detectorist talk that), which is merely a strategy (as it is with metal detectorists)  to dodge actually addressing any of the points made. We have social media Dr Roussin in order precisely to talk about issues. Surely, if the heritage belongs to all of us, we should all (not just US lawyers) have a voice in what happens to it. Simply refusing to discuss it honestly (in anything but the glibbest of facile terms) is a cop-out by whole segments of the heritage sector on both sides of the Atlantic. I personally think that the US approach to implementing the 1970 UNESCO Convention is may ways (argued on this blog) a failure to address the issue, and a damaging one at that. It's my opinion reached after looking at it closely and carefully for a number of years (and if you look through this blog, you'll see it was not always like that). I am entitled to my opinion and Dr Roussin is of course entitled to hers. The difference between us is that I think this is worth discussing and am having a go at defending my views, Dr Roussin apparently is not. Not only that, her correspondence suggests that she's not really paying much attention to what the other side is saying, apparently simply dismissing it because it conflicts with her own preconceptions, which are that the CCPIA is "working very well". If that is typical of the approach of the US heritage community as a whole, then we'll not be seeing any much-needed change soon.

*Not noticing that this blog has been a firm supporter of the LCCHP, including its recent campaign to heighten awareness about the significance of the Charles B. Rangel/Steve Israel moves to weaken measures for curbing antiquity smugglers.

UPDATE 12th August 2014
Lobbyist Peter Tompa complains in one of his sillier posts, linking to this text: "Mr. Barford also goes after those who agree with him philosphically [sic] if they don't agree with him on a specific point. See this condescending post here directed at an attorney associated with the LCCHP. From this I gues we are supposed to conclude (a) that being LCCHP is akin to being the Queen Mum for Peter Tompa, and (b) if someone "close to Peter Tompa philosophically" said something he thought was wrong, he'd stay silent on it. I am sure  Dr Lucille A. Roussin  (and Mr Ciric) are wrong, and explain why, she has refused to engage with that discussion and explain to my readers where it is I who have it wrong. Refusing to present any counter-arguments is hardly advancing the heritage debate. Mr Tompa also cannot be bothered to present any substantive points, preferring merely to judge the value of the arguments by the tone in which he perceives them as being written.

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