Sunday, 2 August 2015

New German Law "Fails to Address the Problem of Illicit Antiquities"?

Preservationists who have seen the draft argue that Monika Gruetters' proposed new cultural property law does not go far enough in preventing the circulation of illicit antiquities ('Looted in Mosul, sold in Munich? Germany's clampdown on illicit trade' July 30th 2015).
Critics argue that the current bill - which also includes rules about cultural exports and transfer of ownership within the country - does not go far enough to protect looted art, and that it may even facilitate trade in illegal artefacts already circulating in Germany. "What the draft law does is effectively legalize all looted artefacts that are already on German soil when it comes into effect, which will most likely be early 2016," says Michael Mueller-Karpe, an antiquities expert at the RGZM Research Institute for Archeology. Mueller-Karpe argues that the laxness of Gruetters' draft law is a reflection of the government's reluctance to place the German art market - which already ranks lower than the United States and Britain in terms of turnover - at a competitive disadvantage. "The antiques lobby is very powerful indeed," he says. "I would argue that antiques traders are quite pleased with the legislation, as it effectively gives them a license to buy and sell looted antiquities already in the country."
The debate surrounding illegal antiquities from war-torn countries is likely to continue in the coming weeks, with Gruetters to present the bill to Merkel's cabinet in August. Perhaps, given the track of the public debate, it might be found  more helpful to have a separately-debated law for dugup antiquities and another for the other forms of antiques/bygones, such as paintings, collectors' vehicles, postage stamps, musical instruments and clocks etc.  One can clamp down on things like export licences and legitimating collecting histories, the other can concentrate on other issues.

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