Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Stealth Unidroit: the State Department’s War Against Collecting

The 1995 Unidroit Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects has been accepted by few “collecting” nations, most notably Italy and Spain. The United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Russia, Canada, Australia, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, and signatory states France, the Netherlands and Switzerland have not accepted it. During the past five years only Bolivia, Cambodia, Cyprus, Gabon, Guatemala, Iran, New Zealand, Nigeria, Portugal, Slovakia, and Slovenia joined this Convention, at which rate it will be a very long time before Unidroit 1995 becomes globally effective, if that ever happens.

This lack of support reflects a perception that the Convention was drafted without due consideration for the rights and interests of collectors, or for practical difficulties that would follow from its implementation. Its scope is so broad, its language so imprecise, that a nightmare of legal uncertainty may result when a “collecting nation” accepts this Convention. In the United States, such uncertainties might well require decades of case law to resolve. Confronted by the failure of this overt, honorable attempt to achieve their anticollecting objectives, proponents of “cultural retentionism” led by the archaeology lobby have instead adopted a stealth strategy of seeking import restrictions under the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

Sweeping import restrictions on “cultural objects” in a few key nations, among which the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Switzerland are prominent, would strangle international ethnic art, antiquities and numismatic markets. Once a nation accepts the UNESCO Convention and enabling legislation is passed, a request from another government - alleging that its cultural heritage is in danger and requesting import controls - becomes grounds for imposing import restrictions. To achieve that end, “cultural retentionists” need only recruit several interested foreign governments and win a few ideological allies among the bureaucracy managing the administrative process, a vastly easier task than gaining enough public support to enact restrictive legislation.

The effectiveness of this stealthy “behind the scenes” approach has recently been demonstrated by US imposition of import restrictions on Cypriot coins. In taking this action the State Department ignored significant evidence that such restrictions are not justified by the CPIA statute and cannot be enforced in an equitable manner, and also ignored a flood of public comments objecting to this unprecedented measure. The anticollecting cabal that brought this about includes:

The Archaeological Institute of America


The Republic of Cyprus

Dr. Ricardo Elia

Patty Gerstenblith

U.S. Department of State Cultural Heritage Center
Ms. Maria Kouroupas, Executive Director, Cultural Property Advisory Committee

Collectors may view stealth tactics on the part of the archaeology lobby and its allies in academia as being less than candid toward the public, however these zealots are certainly within their rights in thus pursuing their ends. They have a right to advance their cause and ideology by all legal means. One must reluctantly admire the effectiveness and dedication with which they have conducted their stealth war on collecting.

The policy and conduct of the State Department is another matter. As part of the US Government, the State Department first and foremost always owes loyalty to the American people, and never to interests of foreign governments or any particular ideology. Its primary obligation is to place US public interests first, and to conduct its affairs in an even handed impartial manner, not “taking sides” in controversial situations involving clashes of interest. It is now glaringly apparent that the State Department has instead allied itself with the archaeology lobby, and has improperly and shamefully elevated adherence to a statist, internationalist anticollecting ideology above its primary duty and obligation to protect the interests of the American people.

This deplorable violation of civil service ethics and honor can be ascribed to the relentless ideological activism of Maria Kouroupas, Executive Director of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee. Kouroupas has (through her biased management of the appointment process) thwarted the intent of Congress that this Committee should be fair and impartial - it now includes a clear majority of members ideologically aligned with the archaeology lobby. Notorious for opposing the art and antiquities trades, she was exposed in "The Secret War of Maria Kouroupas," by S. Vincent, Art & Auction 24, March 2002, 62-69. (See - Stealth Fighter.pdf)

Under the misdirection and bias of Kouroupas, a major objective of the UNIDROIT Convention - enforcing export laws of foreign nations through import controls - is now being actively pursued by stealth tactics, through secretive administrative decisions by faceless bureaucrats, not accountable to the public for their actions. These ideological allies of the archaeology lobby have twisted and perverted administration of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act, modifying its implementation to achieve their anticollecting objectives. The result is something sinisterly different from what Congress intended when the US acceded to the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

Bureaucrats who have so far forgotten or ignored the moral responsibilities of ethical civil service should have no place in our Government. Kouroupas and her minions have proven themselves to be servants of the archaeology lobby and a few foreign states, not dedicated servants of the American people.

This development should concern not only coin collectors, but also every American citizen who values his or her personal freedom. Big Brother is watching you, and Big Brother does not like collecting. If this unholy cabal of narrow academic interests, entrenched bureacrats and cultural officials in a few foreign nations can secretively and successfully hijack US cultural policy in such a manner, the implications may reach far beyond what happens to coin collecting.


Blogger Emerson Twain said...

Thank-you for your efforts and for your passionate, but deliberate pursuit of the truth. You should, however, consider editing your post to make the urls you cite into live links.

9:36 AM  
Blogger Dave Welsh said...

Done. Thanks for pointing that out.

12:11 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

Well written Dave. I hope we get the needed traction on this in D.C.


1:40 PM  

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