Friday, May 11, 2012

The Collapse of Cultural Property Nationalism

Greek turmoil deepens Europe's debt crisis
By John W. Schoen

Greek turmoil deepens Europe's debt crisis

John Kolesidis / Reuters

Greek actress Ino Menegaki, playing the role of high priestess, takes part in the Olympic torch ceremony at the site of ancient Olympia in Greece Thursday. Greece could use some help from above as it struggles to solve deep economic and political problems.
The deepening political turmoil in Greece has begun reverberating throughout the global financial markets as Athens’ failure to form a government last weekend threatens to further undermine the battered European economy and banking system.

Two years after European leaders began engineering a bailout for the debt-laden Greek government in return for deep spending cuts, the grand plan to cement the widening cracks in Europe’s common currency appears to have collapsed. There is no Plan B. "Greece is an unguided missile launched from the middle of the eurozone," said Carl Weinberg, chief economist at High Frequency Economics. “How, when and where it will strike cannot be predicted."

On Thursday, Greece’s fragmented political leadership failed in another last-ditch effort to form a government, all but assuring another round of elections next month. Voters swept from power the two major parties that had engineered a painful austerity plan with Europe’s wealthier countries, led by Germany, in exchange for an ongoing financial lifeline.  With no government in place to enforce spending cuts, the Europe Union temporarily cut off a portion of that lifeline, raising the likelihood that Greece will be forced to leave the 17-nation compact that shares a common currency.


Without the financial lifeline or membership in the common currency, Greece faces a grim future. With its economy already contracted at an estimated 6 percent annual rate, an exit from the euro zone would accelerate its economic and financial collapse. But holders of its debt, including Europe’s banking system, would also feel the blow.

The turmoil is already putting pressure on other European governments wrestling with large debts and deep spending cuts.  No one can predict the outcome. And unlike the sudden financial panic that swept the world in September 2008, some  analysts say, the crisis could stretch on for years. Europe has become “slow motion train wreck,” according to New York University economist Nouriel Roubini,

"Slow motion because it might take three or four years," he told CNBC. "But three or four years in which all these risks coming from the euro zone - economic, political, fiscal, financial - are going to get gradually worse."

For the moment, Spain appears to be the most vulnerable to the “contagion” of Greece’s  apparently  imminent demise. With Spain’s economy mired in the second recession since 2009 and unemployment at 25 percent, the country’s bankers are struggling with rising loan defaults left behind by a U.S.-style housing bust.

On Wednesday, the Spanish government took over the latest casualty, Bankia, which holds 10 percent of the Spanish banking system's deposits. Government officials there are expected to demand as early as Friday that bankers set aside more capital to offset those debts. That would leave them with less cash to lend to businesses and consumers, dampening spending and deepening the recession.

That recession is spreading across Europe. On Thursday, the OECD said in a monthly economic update that France and Italy are showing further signs of weakness.

That leaves Germany, Europe’s largest economy, as the main provider of financial lifelines to its weaker neighbors. Despite growing signs that deep budget cuts are worsening Europe’s economic contraction, German leaders remain publicly steadfast in support of further “austerity” as the ultimate cure.

On Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel insisted, in a newspaper interview, that Greece has to follow through on further cuts due next month under terms of the bailout negotiated by its government. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said Thursday that Europe and the International Monetary Fund stood ready to help Greece, but the country’s fate would be depend on adherence to the existing plan.
"Whether Greece is ready to do what is necessary - only the Greek people can decide," he told a news conference. "Greece can rely on the solidarity of Europe, but if Greece does not help itself, there is nothing to be done."

If the austerity plan fails and Germany withdraws financial support, Greece would almost certainly default on its debt, including loans already extended by the IMF and European Central Bank. The impact of those losses could make it much more difficult for other countries to win support for bailouts of their own.


Borrowers across Europe already face a tougher time getting credit as banks are apparently hoarding cash to weather an increasingly risky and uncertain future, according to a recent analysis by the Wall Street Journal.  At the end of March, 10 of Europe's biggest banks had parked nearly $1.2 trillion at central banks around the world. That’s $128 billion, or 12 percent, higher than December and up 66 percent from the end of 2010, the Journal said.

As Europe’s economic and financial crisis drags on, tighter credit conditions could spread worldwide to large companies trying to raise cash by selling bonds. On Thursday, Standard & Poor's issued a report estimating that nonfinancial corporations in the eurozone, U.K., U.S., China, and Japan will need to raise $43 trillion to $46 trillion over the next five years, including $30 trillion of debt to refinance existing bonds and $13 trillion to $16 trillion of new money to fund growth. The report warned of "credit rationing that may occur as banks seek to restructure their balance sheets," and investors grow jittery about the risks of buying all that debt.


Investors are also warily watching the looming "fiscal cliff" facing the biggest borrower of all, the U.S. government. Unless Congress and the White House can steer away from it, massive tax hikes and spending cut are scheduled to take effect at year-end. Economists have warned the combined impact could cost the U.S. economy between 2.5 to 5 percent of gross domestic product, stopping the anemic recovery in its tracks.



As the European Union slowly collapses and disintegrates,  many idealistic, well-intentioned dreams are also collapsing. One of these idealistic dreams is the notion that cultural property is inherently national property, and should not be owned by private individuals.

This notion originated in Latin America in the 1950s and at first, was exploited by the Soviet Union in its Cold War struggle for political influence in Latin America. The subsequent development of this idealistic motion, its eventual support by the US State Department and the evolution of the 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property 


are chronicled in a 61-page paper, “Coin Collectors and Cultural Property Nationalism”presented by Wayne Sayles at the two-day conference, “Portable Antiquities: Archaeology, Collecting, Metal Detecting”, organized by the Council for British Archaeology (CBA) and the International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies (ICCHS) The event was held at the University of Newcastle (UK) and the Great North Museum on March 13-14, 2010.

This paper may be accessed online at

Like other idealistic dreams that also will not survive this approaching political paradigm shift, cultural property nationalism is a doomed concept, headed for extinction for the simple reason that it does not have either a budget or any meaningful political constituency. The only significant political constituency this concept ever had was the Cold War, which ended with events culminating in the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. Since then, cultural property nationalism has been a political orphan championed by ideological zealots who have no money and (apart from bureaucrats and officials entrenched in government ministries) no political power.

The bureaucrats in question do have political power, which they have been unscrupulously and ruthlessly abusing in their efforts to bring about "government by fiat" in cultural policies. In Germany police officials have invaded the homes of law-abiding German collectors, searching for a few low-value ancient coins sold on eBay by a technician whose hobby was cleaning ancient coins: - The Krombach Case

"It all started with a preliminary investigation against the 47 year-old installer Sylvio Müller. The police suspected him of fencing [ = unlawful receipt of stolen property ] in 711 cases. He had purchased coins to clean them and sell them on eBay afterwards.

The inquiries of the police prompted 347 preliminary investigations against all those people who had bought coins from Sylvio Müller. They, too, were accused of fencing. Alexander Krombach was one of them."

Alexander Krombach did not (as had other victims of this outrageous abuse of authority ) accept a nominal fine and the confiscation of his collection. He decided to get a lawyer and fight it out in court. After a year and a half he prevailed, his coins were ordered to be returned to him, and the Hessian Ministry of Higher Education, Research and the Arts was required to pay court costs.

The U.S. State Department and Maria Kouroupas

By far the most effective [ and dangerous ] example of  "government by fiat" has been the U. S. State Department's Cultural Heritage Center, led since its inception by Maria Papageorge Kouroupas.

In a 2010 review article published on Unidroit-L, I  presented (for the first time) a reasonably complete account of what  Maria Kouroupas has done since U. S. accession to the 1970 UNESCO convention in 1983:

This article is primarily a comprehensive discussion of the issues of bureaucratic bias and private agendas. I will quote from its introductory section:

"Opinions on this [ bureaucratic bias ] differ (anticollecting archaeologists and the State Department have a different perspective), but there is no question that those involved in the collectors' rights movement perceive the State Department bureaucracy as pervasively and profoundly biased against private antiquities collecting, and view the US Government as being an ally of the archaeology lobby.

It is a very bad state of affairs when law-abiding citizens pursuing what has heretofore been regarded as a socially beneficial and respectable avocation (practised by more than one US President among other notables) come to believe that they are not being fairly treated, and that their government has taken sides in the controversy over antiquities collecting and has become their enemy."

I urge everyone interested in the subjects of bureaucratic bias and the private agendas of influential bureaucrats to read it in full.


A brief recap of the bureaucratic career of Maria Kouroupas:

Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, Maria attended the University of Arkansas and the State College of Arkansas, receiving a Master’s Degree in History and Education. In 1977 she was employed by the American Association of Museums in Washington D.C. where she  administered the association's international programs.

There she developed "International Partnerships Among Museums," the only museum-to-museum institutional linkage program of its kind. While at the AAM she contributed a regular column to the international section of Museum News. Maria also became involved in the lengthy, complex discussions and debates regarding prospective U. S. accession to the 1970 UNESCO convention.

Initially, although a U. S. delegation signed the Convention there was very little support for its ratification, and not until the U. S. State Department took a strong stand in favor of ratification did Congress begin serious deliberations.The full story of Maria's involvement in and influence upon those deliberations remains untold. She was an expert in the field of museum administration, and known to be a strong opponent of unrestrained trade in cultural property [ then often described as "art objects" circulating in the "art trade" ]. She undoubtedly would have favored accession as a means of restraining and controlling the "art trade."
In 1984, shortly after U. S. accession to the 1970 UNESCO convention, Maria joined the USIA where she became Deputy Director of the Cultural Preservation Advisory Committee. In addition to managing the Cultural Preservation Advisory Committee, she published several journal articles on implementation of the 1970 UNESCO Convention, and participated in many conferences regarding protection of cultural heritage.

In 1993 she was named Director of the Cultural Preservation Advisory Committee, also serving as its executive director before transferring to the State Department's Cultural Heritage Center in that same capacity.

Maria Kouroupas remains today, as always, the secretive self-effacing  éminence grise who directly or indirectly decides almost every aspect of US cultural property policy through her all-pervasive control of U.S. implementation of the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

US Cultural Policy Direction after Maria Kouroupas

There will certainly come a time when one thinks and talks of Maria Kouroupas as a phenomenon of the past. Retirement age is approaching, and she cannot realistically expect many more years of active civil service. Thus it is appropriate to begin thinking about what may follow.

One possibility is that a cadre of dedicated subordinates has been developed who will faithfully carry on her work. For several reasons, this seems very unlikely. First of all. there is an important, essential  difference in personal orientations and motivations.

Maria Kouroupas came to the State Department when it absorbed the USIA, and as a State Department employee she has for the most part simply carried forward well-established efforts and goals from her USIA past. The USIA was a very different sort of organization from the State Department, did not attract the same types of individuals as does DOS, and did not have similar career development expectations, which is a decisively important consideration.


Hmm -- you might pause here to wonder: what in my experience enables me to understand career  expectations of junior State Department staff? A lot actually, for you already know the type -- and have learned that just as soon as you come to develop confidence in a banker away he/she goes, and your new "personal banker" knows almost as much about banking as your dog. It would help if banks sent their banker-trainees through a "boot camp," which presumes that they might care about something beyond creating predictable, liability-avoiding functionaries who will never make their supervisor look bad.

It would likewise help if the State Department cared even slightly about its own "customers" -- the foreign nations where its functionaries serve, and US citizens impacted by their decisions.


State Department staffers simply aren't the same sort of material at all as Maria Kouroupas, which suggests an intriguing possibility:

Might perhaps the time pressure of an already fixed, as yet undisclosed retirement date for Maria Kouroupas help to explain:

1) the unseemly, confrontational haste with which the AIA/Kouroupas joint agenda is being pushed forward now;
2) the uncaring willingness with which a plethora of well-founded, broad legal challenges is being accepted;
3) the uncaring freedom with which overt and unnecessary offense is being given to an ever-increasing number of Congressmen;
4) the incessant array of legal delaying/stalling tactics, seemingly all being played out until the last possible moment.

Is this perhaps Maria Kouroupas paraphrasing the Sun-King: Μετά από με η πλημμύρα?


There may already be a realization in the AIA/Kouroupas camp that the developing collapse of the European  political base for cultural property nationalism will fairly soon confront them with an uncontrollable Congressional revolt against their blatant perversion of the ;egislative intent of the 1983 CCPIA, which would indeed be well deserved and amply justified. Only the untimely retirement and death of Senator Daniel P. Moynihan, architect of the CCPIA, has prevented that day of reckoning from already having taken place ten years ago.

If that should be the case, then all the arguments cited above also apply, as does the possibility that both cases coexist and interact with one another.


It cannot be denied that  in the ranks of anticollecting zealotry, there are many who are so ideologically committed that they are so far etached from reality as to be unable to see what is coming.To such blind zealots, I would recommend Mesozoic vertebrate palaeontology as a subject to read up on, for in the foreseeable future they may themselves experience events recalling what happened to the reptiles who constitute its subject.



Monday, May 07, 2012

Greek voters deal blow to parties that have governed for decades

Greeks angered by a protracted financial crisis punished the parties that have dominated politics for decades Sunday, with projected election results showing them hemorrhaging support to anti-bailout groups and no party gaining enough ballots to form a government.

Responding quickly to the protest vote, the heads of the parties in first and second place pledged to seek to either renegotiate the terms of Greece's multibillion dollar international bailout agreement or overturn it.
More than two years of repeated austerity measures in return for bailout loans from other European Union countries and the IMF have pushed Greece into a deep recession that has seen the jobless rate explode and tens of thousands of businesses close. The misery has infuriated voters who on Sunday dealt a massive blow to the decades-old dominance of the country's two main parties, the socialist PASOK and conservative New Democracy.


This decisive rejection of austerity seems likely to be followed in Italy and other nations whose voters will not accept years of misery under austerity regimes mandated by EU fiscal watchdogs.

No longer is the EU in danger of collapse -- it HAS collapsed. It only remains to be seen how many nations will follow Greece in rejecting EU financial controls.

Greek voters will now discover that leaving the EU may be worse than austerity, for a return to the drachma will leave Greece unable to finance its sovereign debt on any terms other than ruinous defaulter interest rates.

Dave Welsh
Listowner, Unidroit-L