Monday 11 September 2023

Cultural property criminals’ responses to the invasion and occupation of the Donbas

Samuel Andrew Hardy and Serhii Telizhenko
Russia was ‘doomed to expand [its] aggression’ against Ukraine: Cultural property criminals’ responses to the invasion and occupation of the Donbas since 20th February 2014.Published online: 11 Sep 2023

This study explores how Russia’s invasion and occupation of Ukraine has affected cultural property crime and how cultural property criminals have responded to those practical, social, political and economic changes. To do so, this online ethnography draws on netnographic data from 184 artefact-hunters across Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Greece, Germany, Belgium, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada, two artefact-dealers and one violent political operator, whose discussions spanned 19 online communities. It examines the legal fictions and legal nihilism of antiquities looters; the criminal operations of antiquities looters and antiquities traffickers in the occupied territories of Ukraine; the international networks of artefact-hunters that facilitate the trading of equipment and antiquities, plus the movement of the artefact-hunters themselves and the conduct of their criminal operations. Thereby, it documents the pollution of Western markets with tainted cultural goods from the occupied territories of Ukraine and elsewhere in Eastern Europe and the contribution of Western consumers to the conflict economy.
This is great, it is really rare to see an archaeology text that so closely relates to present day (and individual) realities. I am told that it is first of a series.

I think this is very important work as the same thing is happening concerning the Russian attack on Ukraine as happened in Iraq and Syria, a whole group of scholars and journalists in US and UK jumped on the issue, wrote a whole lot of words and set up organizations to monitor things (but really to generate grants), and made up a load of myths. In the case of UA however, there was a flurry of activity in the US, in 2022, a lot of exaggerations were published, work was done and words were written without the involvement of Ukrainians. So it is good to see this evidence-based collaborative text that crosses beyond the usual well-trodden paths when talking about the interaction between archaeology (and broadly-understood "heritage") and modern conflict. I look forward to seeing further papers in this series.

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