Friday 31 July 2015

From Mosul to Munich?

It is precisely from Munich
that many of the petition's
signatories come
Public debate on the antiquities trade is getting rather heated in Germany:
Fears that Germany has become a trade hub for looted antiquities from the Middle East has prompted the government to put forward a draft law on artistic imports. Critics argue it does not go far enough to prevent illicit trade. The headlines sent shockwaves through the German art world. "Looted art: A race against time," weekly newspaper Die Zeit proclaimed, while the conservative daily Die Welt declared Germany "a trade hub for illegal art." An in-depth documentary produced by public broadcaster ARD even claimed to have traced the financing of terrorist organizations including the Islamic State to high-profile auction houses in Munich. "It's pretty simple: exporting looted art from conflict-ridden countries such as Syria and Iraq would not be possible if it wasn't for the solid infrastructure that the European art market provides," says Ulli Seegers, an art historian at the University of Dusseldorf. As a result, Culture Minister Monika Gruetters has put forward legislation to better regulate the import of ancient artefacts from conflict-ridden countries, and she plans to present the draft law to Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet next month. "In the future anyone wishing to import historical artefacts into Germany will need a valid export permit for every individual item from the country of origin, and this permit will have to be presented," said Gruetters at a recent conference on illicit excavations. "It is ridiculous that we in Germany spare no costs and effort to designate the provenance of every egg before it makes it to the breakfast table, while a complete lack of transparency reigns in the way we deal with cultural assets worth millions," she added.
Germany ratified the 1970 UNESCO Convention in 2007 but the country's laws were not able to cope with combating  trade in illicit cultural artefacts, and the legislation created to support implementation of the Convention is widely perceived to have failed. Hence the need for a new draft. The proposed form of the new legislation has drawn the ire of art dealers, who argue that the new requirements are not aligned with the realities of the market and place what they call "an unreasonable burden on art dealers". 
The controversy has particular relevance in light of Germany's complicated and highly fraught relationship with looted artworks. The discovery in 2012 of a cache of 1,200 works amassed by a Nazi-era art dealer under dubious circumstances exposed an underlit chapter of German history. "As Germans we have a special responsibility considering the looting of art between 1933 and 1945," says Mueller-Karpe, referring to the theft of what was referred to as "degenerate art" in Nazi Germany. "The outcome of this [law] is of the utmost importance as future generations will have to bear the consequences."
Source: 'Looted in Mosul, sold in Munich? Germany's clampdown on illicit trade' July 30th 2015.

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