What's really behind the Bulgarian MOU request
by Peter Tompa
Behind all the slogans, what will be the real impact of any US decision to impose import restrictions on behalf of Bulgaria?
Will it end looting of archaeological sites by Bulgarians? No.
Will it diminish demand for Bulgarian antiquities? Doubtful, as any restrictions will only apply to American collectors. Collectors in Bulgaria, the rest of the EU and emerging markets in Asia and the Middle East will be unaffected.
Will it end corruption in Bulgaria? No, if anything, it might actually open up new avenues for corrupt officials such as the resale of repatriated antiquities.
Will it encourage the Bulgarian cultural establishment to implement more rational and inclusive laws governing the sale and possession of cultural goods? No, if anything, it will butress the current status quo.
Will it make it far more difficult to import coins "of Bulgarian type" into the United States? Yes.
So, by all means, let your views be your guide in commenting on the Bulgarian MOU-- but hopefully only do so with knowledge of what is really at stake.
Peter Tompa is absolutely correct in pointing out that acceding to Bulgaria's request for import restrictions will not do anything to end looting of archaeological sites by Bulgarians. It may actually tend to perpetuate the problem, by providing Bulgarian politicians and appointed officials with something to point to as evidence that they are doing something to stop looting. Until the Bulgarian people become sufficiently outraged at the corruption in their government to force changes at the top, bribed officials will continue to look the other way while looters plunder archaeological sites, detectorists openly hunt for metal artifacts and smugglers transport the loot across Bulgaria's borders.
What's really behind this MOU request? A secret, three-way behind the scenes deal that has already been negotiated between Bulgaria, the American Institute for Archaeology and the State Department's Cultural Heritage Center. Bulgaria's politicians want political cover. US archaeologists want excavation permissions in Bulgaria, and won't get them unless Bulgaria gets US import restrictions on antiquities. Cultural Heritage Center bureaucrats want to destroy the US antiquities market for ideological reasons, and seek to curry favor with US archaeologists and foreign governments so that they will receive awards for their leadership in preserving cultural heritage (and promotions).
Neat, isn't it? Everyone wins - except the tens of thousands of Americans whose rights are blatantly trampled on, and whose longstanding, legitimate interests in antiquities are ignored in the corrupt, deceptive, secretive CPAC process.