Saturday, February 18, 2012

Rethinking Greece

Time for a Major Rethink in Greece

By Peter Tompa

Greece's financial meltdown has prompted calls for its economy to be liberalized by cutting back on excessive government regulations and ending state subsidies for connected insiders.

While the archaeological blogosphere remains in denial, it's time for those without a vested interest in the status quo to make suggestions on how Greece can turn its current challenges into an opportunity by similarly liberalizing its cultural establishment. Here are some ideas, though I'm sure others will have their own views.

In the Short Run:

Deploy the Greek Army to protect archaeological sites and museums.

Reduce the cultural bureaucracy. Greece sent a huge delegation to the US to appear at the State Department's CPAC hearing on Greece. (My recollection is there were 12 people there!) Most countries make do with one or two representatives. This confirms for me other complaints that the cultural ministry's upper management is grossly overstaffed.

Deaccession and sell off duplicates from museum stores to foreigners and wealthy Greeks.

Give tax breaks to individuals that donate money to Greek museums.

Require foreign archaeologists to pay a hefty user fee for the privilege of excavating in the country, but as a quid pro quo reestablish the historic practice of partage.

Require foreign archaeologists to police their own sites when they are not being actively excavated.

In the longer term:

Establish a legal market for ancient artifacts that can be taxed.

Establish a recording system akin to the Treasure Act and PAS.

Require developers to pay for the services of archaeologists to undertake salvage excavations on land likely to contain ruins, but then allow the developer to sell what is found after it is recorded, or give them a tax break if the artifact is worthy of going into a museum.





It is indeed time for a major rethinking, not just on Greece but upon cultural policy in all "source countries" that have declared antiquities to be public property, to be held in public custody at public expense.

The only truly sensible and viable path to adequate funding for the protection of archaeological sites and antiquities is to come to the realization that these responsibilities can no longer be funded by taxpayers. Archaeologists and others involved in cultural heritage issues must now recognize reality - society is not willing to continue to pay for archaeology, or for demands of archaeologists that countless millions of ancient artifacts shall be kept in state custody at public expense.

The obvious solution is to decide that policies regarding disposition and custody of ancient artifacts will no longer be driven by the impractical ideology that these objects somehow inherently "belong to everyone" and that it is morally wrong for any of them to be privately owned, or for private individuals to profit from owning them or trading in them.

Ownership inherently involves responsibilities and financial obligations, and it is becoming increasingly clear that taxpayers do not want these onerous responsibilities and are not willing to provide financial support for the associated financial obligations. There are many millions of redundant artifacts in public custody in source countries such as Greece and Italy, where drastic budget cuts have recently been made and where the cost of maintaining secure custody of these artifacts is becoming insupportable.

A sensible and responsible system of triage should now be instituted, whereby responsible experts decide which artifacts shall be retained in publicly supported museums where they will be displayed or kept in active research collections, and which artifacts are redundant and not required for public display or research. Redundant artifacts should be released (with provenance) to the antiquities trade at periodic auctions, to find their way into the hands of collectors who will care for them, learn from them and thereby significantly increase public interest in the study of the past and in archaeology.

Such an approach will significantly reduce the custodial burden, providing funds for protection of archaeological sites and antiquities, and for museums. It will also provide funds for increasing support for archaeology, and will tend to devalue unprovenanced artifacts - which will materially assist in suppressing illicit excavations.


Friday, February 17, 2012

Greek meltdown

Greece in Meltdown; Archaeologists in Denial

by Peter Tompa

The Greek financial meltdown has led to further cuts in Greece's already poorly funded cultural establishment, and has contributed to an increase of thefts, including a recent break-in at Olympia.

Here is how the LA Times summarized the problem:

Greece's economic crisis has left the Culture Ministry desperately short of cash, resulting in a near-shutdown of scores of museums, dwindling archaeological work in various parts of the country and, in some cases, severe cutbacks in security.

At the National Gallery, the curator acknowledged that although the safety of its collection "is not in peril," budget cuts have scaled back security personnel by about 50% since 2010, leaving the country's biggest storehouse of fine art with just 19 of the 37 guards it employed before the fiscal crisis. "If robbers are breaking in here," said Vassiliki Paraschi, a bystander peering up at the gallery's assaulted balcony door, "then I can't imagine what is happening to small museums in remote locations."

Greece has never been a generous investor in culture. Even in the 1990s heyday of spendthrift policies, Athens allocated just 0.7% of the national budget for the promotion and preservation of Greece's cultural inheritance.

Now nearly bankrupt, the state has halved that figure to 0.35%, allotting 42% of that — about $173 million — to the operation and security of museums, monuments, monasteries and archaeological sites, according to the 2012 budget.

Government officials are emphatic, however, that the financial crisis is not taking a toll on the safety of Greece's fine art and antiquities. "We made drastic cuts in 2010. We hired no one, not even a single archaeologist," said Lina Mendoni, secretary general of the Culture Ministry.

"We have now come back, hiring just security personnel to man museums and archaeological sites. Well, doesn't that prove our genuine conviction to safeguarding our cultural heritage?"

About 1,900 government-paid guards protect more than 15,000 museums, monuments and archaeological sites across the country. Of these, 1,350 are full-time staff members; the rest are either contract employees hired during the peak tourist season or civil servants relocated from state corporations that the government shut down last year in a bid to slash public spending.

"What am I supposed to do with a 63-year-old mechanic or bus driver who is clueless about antiquity and is just interested in clocking time until retirement?" asked Giorgos Dimakakos, the head guard at the Acropolis, Greece's landmark monument. In recent months, Culture Ministry guards have heightened demands for permanent employment and an exemption from further austerity cuts, saying the government's Band-Aid solutions to personnel shortages pose grave security and liability risks.

With poverty levels rising and more than 100,000 businesses shuttered or close to bankruptcy, art and antiquities thefts are up by at least 30% in the last year, said Kouzilos of the special police unit. It's hardly a surprise, then, to see a dramatic increase in small-time hoods and first-time crooks trying to join the ranks of seasoned art thieves."

About 95% of the names coming in from our informants are newcomers," Kouzilos said. "Not a single one of the arrested had a euro to show for [their troubles].

All were in financial ruins. "In one of the most high-profile cases last year, police arrested a trio of smugglers trying to sell artifacts that included 6th century BC helmets, gold funerary masks and part of an iron sword linked to the dynasty of Alexander the Great. Only one of the gang members had a record in antiquities smuggling; the others were bouncers newly fired from a nightclub in northern Greece.

As the recession deepens, police expect art and antiquities crime to rise, but there is a silver lining. "The more amateurs join in, the easier it is to nab them," Kouzilos said.






Tompa is correct in observing that archaeologists are indeed in denial. They don't seem to comprehend that when push comes to shove, society will not support their ideological agenda of mandatory, publicly funded state custody of all ancient artifacts.

Push has indeed come to shove in Greece, and hard choices now confront the Greek people. One of those choices is continuing support for archaeology. The above account suggests that the Greek government is presently focusing its attention on security issues, and on maintaining security at museums.

So far as it goes, this account seems to indicate that security and law enforcement are now receiving priority at the expense of archaeological work. That would be an appropriate way to deal with this crisis, however it is not yet clear that the authorities have really instituted measures that will be effective in the long run. Time will tell whether these approaches will be successful, or whether they are (as Culture Ministry guards, who presumably should know what they are talking about, allege) merely interim Band-Aid solutions to personnel shortages that pose grave security and liability risks.


Olympia Museum Robbed

Armed robbers raid Greece's Ancient Olympia museum

Armed robbers seized dozens of items on display at the museum in Ancient Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympics in southern Greece, after tying up an employee on Friday.

Greece's Culture Minister Pavlos Geroulanos submitted his resignation after the robbery. The thieves reportedly used hammers to smash display cases.

Police and museum authorities did not have an immediate account of the items taken. However, reported that at least 60 artifacts had been stolen.

Sporting authorities are to hold a ceremony at the museum on May 10 to light the Olympic flame for the London Games.




This seems to be incontrovertible evidence that Greece, given her present difficulties, cannot at this time be considered a safe custodian for ancient artifacts.

The USA should immediately suspend repatriation of artifacts to Greece and enforcement of import restrictions requested by Greece, until an impartial investigation determines whether the Greek government is capable of providing secure custody of the artifacts for which it is presently responsible.

This investigation must not be conducted by the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Cultural Heritage Center Director Maria Kouroupas, the official responsible for administering the 1983 Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act, was educated as an archaeologist and has close ties both to the American Institute for Archaeology and the Greek Government. The biased actions of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs under the Kouroupas regime have resulted in the State Department being sued by US antiquities collectors in an effort to secure judicial review of ECA's maladministration of the CCPIA.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

ACCG Test Case

Law 360 on ACCG Test Case

by Peter Tompa

Law 360 published this story on the ACCG Appeal yesterday:

The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild on Monday urged the Fourth Circuit to revive its lawsuit against U.S. Customs and Border Protection over the seizure of ancient Cypriot and Chinese coins the guild said couldn't be traced to illicit excavations in either Cyprus or China.

ACCG filed a 36-page reply brief arguing for a reversal of a trial court's Aug. 2009 decision to throw out its lawsuit — which targeted defendants including Customs and the U.S. Department of State — and seeking to have the matter remanded for further proceedings.

“Despite the government’s efforts to cast this dispute as one about diplomatic relations, the guild only seeks judicial review of import restrictions on ancient coins,” said the ACCG's brief.

The case, lodged in Maryland federal court in February 2010, was filed following the seizure of more than 20 ancient Cypriot and Chinese coins the ACCG imported from London in 2009. The guild argued that it should not be assumed that a coin was stolen or illegally shipped because the owner was unable to show a chain of custody beyond a receipt from a reputable source.

The government said that no judicial review of the plaintiff's claims was available and that even if it was, the ACCG had not stated a claim for relief.

U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake granted the government's dismissal bid, and said, among other things, that actions taken pursuant to delegated presidential authority under the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act weren't subject to review under the Administrative Procedures Act.

Congress enacted the CPIA in 1983, authorizing the president to enter into agreements with other countries to limit the importation of objects of archaeological interest and cultural significance.

The U.S. entered into such deals with Cyprus and China in July 2007 and January 2009, respectively, limiting the importation of ancient coins minted in the countries.

In Monday's brief, the ACCG said that the trial court had a duty to conduct a judicial review of the government's decisions to slap import restrictions on collector's coins. Such import restrictions should only be imposed in line with the substantive and procedural restraints on executive found in the CPIA, the guild added.

The government made missteps like imposing import restrictions on coins without regard to their “find spots” and ignored evidence that Chinese and Cypriot coins circulated widely beyond their place of manufacture, said the ACCG.

“We believe that some sort of judicial review is warranted, whether it be under the ultra vires analysis or the APA,” said Bailey & Ehrenberg PLLC's Peter Tompa, an attorney for the ACCG. He added that whether or not the government had applied the “first discovery” rule properly was a key issue in the case.

One of the CPIA's requirements is that the object has to have been discovered in the country entering into the agreement with the U.S.. The ACCG argued that the government needed to show that the coins it seized were first discovered in Cyprus or China.


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

ERC Study Grant

Your Tax Euros at Work

by Peter Tompa

The archaeological blogs are all agog over the news that the EU funded European Research Council has given a 1 million Euro grant to some well known academics with an axe to grind against collectors to sharpen their axe further.

The publicity for the grant does not suggest anything that even remotely resembles academic detachment. For more, see and

Under the circumstances, the European Research Council should be embarrassed if its goal really is to fund high quality research into pressing issues, particularly given the tremendous financial problems facing cultural establishments in countries like Greece and Italy. I suspect the money could be better spent helping these countries take care of what they already have rather than to fund yet another study which will just be used to justify more repatriations.

As it is, by the looks of it, this study will have about as much credibility as one funded by big Pharma to justify sales of a new drug, no one actually needs. It is, however, part of a trend. Get a governmental entity to fund an anti-collector study by academics with an axe to grind, and use it to help justify further government action and spending on cultural bureaucracies. Other recent examples include the sole source contract to ICOM to prepare the Egyptian Red list.

Perhaps a governmental entity should fund a study on the damage caused by development, corruption, underfunding, and inept management of cultural resources. Or, what about another about how collectors help preserve and study the past without any government funding whatsoever. Not likely though, as such studies would be an anathema to the nanny state.





A notorious anticollecting blogger commented on this post to Tompa's blog, suggesting that it is somehow inappropriate to suggest that " tackling the illegal trade is NOT helping nations to look after sites and monuments?" He also remarked that "This of course is money set aside for research - not maintenance, which comes out of separate funds."

Tompa's point was that the likelihood of anything resembling constructive, useful, investigative research actually resulting from such studies is remote, and that there is every reason to think that the results will instead be yet another repetitive, sterile rehash of previously published material attacking private collecting of antiquities and the trade that supports it.