Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What's really behind the Bulgarian MOU request

The Bulgarian MOU: What's Really At Stake
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.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Perpetuating Corruption

SAFE: Say Yes to the Corrupt Bulgarian Status Quo?
by Peter Tompa

Saving Antiquities for Everyone (SAFE) has started yet another "Say Yes" advocacy campaign in support of import restrictions, this time on behalf of Bulgaria.

But, what will SAFE's campaign (and that of the AIA) for "no questions asked" import restrictions really do for Bulgaria and the protection of its cultural patrimony, but help support the corrupt status quo?

Though SAFE's advocacy document has plenty of links detailing individual stories about looting of archaeological sites, SAFE's advocacy fails to mention a sobering report about the state of Bulgaria’s cultural policy prepared by the Center for the Study of Democracy. See The Antiquities Trade-Dealers, Traffickers, and Connoisseurs, in Organized Crime in Bulgaria: Markets and Trends 178-197 (Center for Study of Democracy 2007) (“CSD Report”) (available at: checked, 10/19/11).

This report, prepared with funding from the U.S. Department of Justice, appears to largely reflect the views of government cultural officials and archaeologists. Nevertheless, the report contains some eye-opening facts that should give pause to anyone who might assume all is well with how Bulgaria manages its own cultural patrimony:

• From 100,000 to 250,000 Bulgarians regularly conduct illicit excavations. (Id. at 179.)

• “Most Bulgarian museums have poor recording practices of the artifacts in stock. The general lack of accountability, in particular of museum directors, further aggravates the situation…. The majority of museums do not observe the international standard for describing art, antiques and antiquities with photographs and descriptions of each object (the so called Object ID). In Bulgarian museums objects are often loosely described in general terms, which makes it impossible for them to be tracked, positively identified and restored. The dire state of museum documentation dooms to failure any efforts to trace stolen coins or other items transferred abroad.” (Id. at 183.)

• “To make their anti-looting and anti-trafficking efforts seem more effective enforcement agencies announce lavish values of the illicitly acquired cultural objects they capture.” (Id.)

• “During interviews, carried out for purposes of this paper, it was made clear that the prescribed system of registration [of coins in private collections] by commissions made up of local museum employees was not found trustworthy, as it did not provide safeguards against the theft of valuable coins which could be replaced with cheaper lower grade versions by museum workers.” (Id. at 193.)

• “Some collectors have voiced their suspicions that past burglaries of private coin collections have been committed with the involvement of corrupt police officers or other enforcement officials.” (Id. at 193 n. 312.)

• “Inertia and neglect are not the only factors to throttle effective enforcement. Widespread corruption among local middle-ranking law-enforcement officers who earn personal gains on the black cultural property market also has an adverse effect. Experts have outlined three major forms of corrupt relationships between police officers and antique dealers/looters: 1) policemen are bribed to cover looters and deter police investigation; 2) officers of higher rank become directly involved in illicit antiquities trading, and 3) officers that must prevent and fight cultural property violations become collectors. In addition, the grading of cultural objects held by looters, dealers or collectors is itself often done by would-be experts whose only training is a two-week course delivered by the Privatization Agency on a regular basis that can hardly have equipped them with the knowledge they need to possess about cultural goods. Despite their determination to get looters or persons in illicit hold of antiquities convicted, law-enforcement and investigative bodies are often hampered by either incompetent or intentionally falsified expert assessments presented at the trial phase.” (Id. at 194.)

• “In 2003, the head of Cultural Property Department at the National Police Col. Georgi Getov was discharged. According to media reports he had operated one of the main antiquity smuggling channels in Bulgaria in partnership with a number of prosecutors, NSCOC officers, local archaeological museum directors and other officials who had served as a supply link between looters and the implicated department head. Maritsa Dnes daily, 7 May 2003.” (Id. at 194 n. 316.)


Under the circumstances, the US could best help Bulgaria by tabling any talk of import restrictions to allow Bulgaria time to act on the CSD report's recommendations. Though any looting of Bulgarian archaeological sites is regrettable, it is best addressed in Bulgaria itself through the regulation of metal detectors and serious consideration of CSD's other suggestions before import restrictions are imposed.


In Bulgaria, as in many other nations that have come (or will come) to the US State Department seeking import restrictions on antiquities, official corruption is rampant and pervasive. Citizens of these nations bribe officials to look the other way while they plunder archaeological sites, openly search for coins with metal detectors and smuggle looted objects across national borders.

One need not be an Einstein to realize that looting cannot be deterred by US import restrictions while such rampant corruption continues. What import restrictions instead provide is political cover for politicians who should be cleaning up this corruption. They can point to import restrictions as evidence that they are doing something to correct the situation, without having to pay the political price involved in actually reforming their corrupt governments - and enraging thousands of their political supporters. In these nations, import restrictions tend to postpone and perhaps even avert development of public outrage such as that which has recently toppled several oppressive and corrupt dictatorships.

US import restrictions are not a solution to the problem of looting - they are in reality part of the problem.

Monday, October 24, 2011

I sent my message to Congress

Here is the text of my comment on the Bulgarian MOU request:


The Cultural Property Advisory Committee process is, in reality, a deceptive sham. No facts are actually found. No verification of specific statutory criteria is actually carried out. Recommendations are predetermined before the CPAC process even begins. The legislative intent of Congress has been thwarted, and rights of concerned citizens interested in ancient artifacts are ignored - as are DOS responsibilities to evenhandedly administer the CPAC so as to ensure fair representation and judicious balancing of interests of all concerned parties.

Prior to US accession to the 1970 UNESCO Convention, antiquities experts worried that it would create a "blank check" which would be used to benefit foreign countries and to destroy the US antiquities market, and that the statutory requirement to reach certain findings through consultation with a panel of experts before imposing restrictions would in practice be ritualistic and pro forma. These concerns have become realities. The Cultural Heritage Center bureaucracy, pursuing its ideology-driven agenda to promote interests of US archaeologists in collusion with foreign governments, continually and overtly ignores both the legislative intent of Congress and the legitimate interests and rights of concerned US citizens.

As an interested citizen, I now express my disgust with this disgraceful maladministration in the public record, where it will be visible to elected officials, Senators, Representatives and their legislative staffs.

The Bulgarian request should be rejected. No further import restrictions or renewals should be granted until DOS administration of the CCPIA is reformed, so that the legislative intent of Congress and the rights and interests of collectors are fairly and justly weighed in an open, verifiable process - as DOS indeed promised when accession to the 1970 UNESCO Convention was under consideration.


This comment focuses entirely upon the CPAC process itself and its administration. Reforming this process is an essential precondition to eventually arriving at a US policy on cultural property law which collectors can live with. It is important to build a clear public record of public discontent with the CPAC process and its maladministration.

By now there have been many cogent and well worded comments submitted that focus on the prospective details of the MOU, especially the prospect that it will include ancient coins. In my view full justice has already been done to that subject.

I urge that every collector who has not yet commented now do so, and please use whatever you like from my remarks to indicate your own disgust with the biased maladministration of the CPAC process. Everyone on every side of the antiquities collecting issue ought to be able to agree that collectors are entitled to a fair hearing. We are obviously not getting it, and that injustice should be a much more important concern to everyone than preserving cultural heritage or the archaeological record. If we don't have a genuine rule of law, in which all citizens are treated evenhandedly and fairly by their government, then nothing is really safe - including cultural heritage and archaeology.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Setting the Record Straight

In a recent post to his controversial blog, anticollecting archaeologist Paul Barford opined:

"It seems Dave ("send a message to Congress") Welsh also does not recognise the procedural difference between emergency regulations and the MOUs envisaged in the CPIA." The word 'also' refers to Mr. Barford's immediately preceding post, in which he said "In any case, Tompa is being misleading when he says that such measures always need CPAC input, emergency regulations do not, do they?"

The "emergency regulations" to which Mr. Barford refers appear to be those described in a post made nine months ago to Ricardo St. Hilaire's blog:

"Thinking Ahead: An Emergency Protection for Egyptian Cultural Antiquities Act"

In this post Mr. St. Hilaire, concerned about developing unrest in Egypt at that time, advocated legislation similar to the the Emergency Protection for Iraqi Cultural Antiquities Act of 2004, and stated:

"An Emergency Protection for Egyptian Cultural Antiquities Act should be contemplated even at this early stage of events in Egypt. Such a statute could resemble the emergency protection law covering Iraq and be worded in the following way:

Emergency Protection for Egyptian Cultural Antiquities Act of 2011


(a) AUTHORITY- The President may exercise the authority of the President under section 304 of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (19 U.S.C. 2603) with respect to any archaeological or ethnological material of Egypt without regard to whether Egypt is a State Party under that Act, except that, in exercising such authority, subsection (c) of such section shall not apply.

(b) DEFINITION- In this section, the term `archaeological or ethnological material of Egypt means cultural property of Egypt and other items of archaeological, historical, cultural, rare scientific, or religious importance illegally removed from locations in Egypt since January 25, 2011.

The authority of the President under section 3002(a) shall terminate on January 31, 2016."

What Mr. St. Hilaire proposed was the passage of an Act of Congress authorizing imposition of emergency import restrictions on Egyptian antiquities. So far as I am aware, no such Act was introduced during 2011.

What Peter Tompa and I referred to was something completely different:

"New strategy to prevent illegal trade in Egyptian antiquities

by Nevine El-Aref (Sunday 23 Oct 2011)

In an attempt to tighten security measures on antiquities trafficking, Egypt is to sign a memorandum of understanding with the United States enabling the Customs and National Security Department in the USA to track and catch antiquities smugglers in the country. They will also be able to take all legal procedures to return illegally smuggled antiquities to Egypt.


Ms. El-Aref refers to prospective issuance of a Memorandum of Understanding between the USA and Egypt which would indeed (as correctly reported by Peter Tompa and then subsequently discussed in this blog) require a formal request from the government of Egypt, followed by the CPAC process required by the 1983 US CCPIA implementing US accession to the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

Mr. Barford is the one who does not correctly understand the situation and whose remarks have been misleading. The State Department does not have authority to issue "emergency regulations" imposing import restrictions without a) passage of an Act of Congress specifically authorizing those import restrictions, or b) receiving a request for assistance under the 1970 UNESCO Convention from another signatory nation, followed by the CPAC process.

Send a Message to Congress

CPAC and Egypt: Why Bother?
by Peter Tompa

Ahramonline, the Egyptian Military Dictatorship's mouthpiece, has reported that US and Egyptian authorities are poised to sign yet another MOU which will purportedly clamp down on the trade in Egyptian artifacts. See

Of course, such MOU's are only supposed to be decided after a formal request from a State Party to the State Department. CPAC is then supposed to make recommendations to the President's designee at the Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, who in turn is only supposed to agree to import restrictions if specific statutory criteria are met.

Here, all this appears to be a formality. Some months ago former Egyptian antiquities chief Zahi Hawass reported that American archaeologists had secured the State Department's agreement to enter into import restrictions. Then, the State Department gave ICOM a sole source contract to develop a "red list" of Egyptian antiquities at risk, which can also serve as a ready made "designated list" for import restrictions.

If the reports emanating out of Egypt are true, it's just more evidence that the whole CPAC process is but a bad joke.


Whether or not the reports emanating out of Egypt are true in every detail, the very fact that such a report could be made by an official of the stature of Zahi Hawass does prove these disturbing truths:

1) The State Department's Cultural Heritage Center has become a political resource for US archaeologists to pursue their goals in managing professional relations with foreign nations;

2) Foreign nations (here Egypt) manipulate US archaeologists by conditioning permission to excavate upon obtaining US agreement to embargo importation of antiquities;

3) Details of MOUs are worked out in advance of the formal submission of requests from foreign nations desiring these agreements, in behind-the-scenes negotiations between the nations involved, US archaeologists and the State Department's Cultural Heritage Center;

4) The CPAC process - including public hearings, recommendations to the President's delegated designee at the Department of State, and verification that specific statutory criteria are met - is a dishonest and dishonorable sham. No facts are actually being found. No verification of specific statutory criteria is actually being carried out. The CPAC process produces recommendations predetermined by arrangements secretly made before the process even begins. It has evolved into a "show trial" whose purpose is to deceive Congress and the American people into believing that the Cultural Heritage Center bureaucracy is managing US compliance with the 1970 UNESCO Convention in a manner that safeguards the public interest.

The legislative intent of Congress in enacting the 1983 CCPIA has been thwarted, and longstanding legitimate rights of US citizens interested in collecting ancient artifacts have been ignored - as have been the responsibilities of the Cultural Heritage Center to administer the Cultural Property Advisory Committee so as to ensure fair representation of the interests of all US citizens and an unbiased balance of interests.

During hearings prior to US accession to the UNESCO Convention, antiquities experts expressed concern that it would create a "blank check" to embargo importation of almost all antiquities, that the State Department would use its delegated powers for the benefit of foreign countries and would seek to destroy the US antiquities market, and that the requirement to reach certain findings through consultation with a panel of experts before imposing import restrictions would in practice be ritualistic and pro forma. These concerns have become realities. The Cultural Heritage Center bureaucracy, pursuing its ideology-driven agenda to promote interests of US archaeologists in collusion with foreign governments, is ignoring both the legislative intent of Congress and the legitimate interests and rights of many thousands of US citizens.

Every collector of ancient coins - or other artifacts whose importation could be embargoed - should make his or her disgust with this maladministration of the 1983 CCPIA known in the public record. The period for comment prior to the CPAC hearing on the Bulgarian MOU request is an excellent opportunity to do so. These comments enter the permanent public record, where they are visible to our elected officials, Senators, Representatives and members of their legislative staffs. To submit comments electronically, go here:!submitComment;D=DOS-2011-0115-0001

Please submit comments just once, before the cutoff of 5:00 PM EST Nov. 2, 2011.

When the period for comment prior to the CPAC hearing on the forthcoming Egyptian MOU request arrives, again make your disgust with this dishonest charade known in the public record. Do this every time a MOU request is considered, until Congress finally realizes that the American people know that they are being lied to, and that their legitimate interests and rights are being trampled upon by the Cultural Heritage Center bureaucracy.