Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Cyprus Connection

Extension of Import Restrictions on Archaeological Objects and Ecclesiastical 
and Ritual Ethnological Materials From Cyprus

AGENCIES: U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland 
Security; Department of the Treasury.

ACTION: Final rule.


SUMMARY: This document amends U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) 
regulations to reflect the extension of import restrictions on Pre-
Classical and Classical archaeological objects and Byzantine 
ecclesiastical and ritual ethnological materials from Cyprus. These 
restrictions, which were last extended by CBP Dec. 07-52, are due to 
expire on July 16, 2012, unless extended. The Assistant Secretary for 
Educational and Cultural Affairs, United States Department of State, 
has determined to extend the bilateral Agreement between the Republic 
of Cyprus and the United States to continue the imposition of import 
restrictions on cultural property from Cyprus. The Designated List of 
cultural property described in CBP Dec. 07-52 is revised in this 
document to reflect that the types of ecclesiastical and ritual 
ethnological articles dating from the Byzantine period previously 
listed on the CBP Dec. 07-52 Designated List as protected are now 
protected also if dating from the Post-Byzantine period (c. 1500 A.D. 
to 1850 A.D.) The revised Designated List also clarifies that certain 
mosaics of stone and wall hangings (specifically, to include images of 
Saints among images of Christ, Archangels, and the Apostles) are 
covered under the import restrictions published today. The import 
restrictions imposed on the archaeological and ethnological materials 
covered under the Agreement will remain in effect for a 5-year period, 
and the CBP regulations are being amended accordingly. These 
restrictions are being extended pursuant to determinations of the State 
Department under the terms of the Convention on Cultural Property 
Implementation Act in accordance with the United Nations Educational, 
Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Convention on the Means 
of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer 
of Ownership of Cultural Property.

DATES: Effective Date: July 16, 2012.

Cyprus in Breach of MOU with US?  
By Peter Tompa
 In return for precluding Americans from purchasing undocumented Cypriot antiquities (which means an embargo for all practical purposes for things like coins) Cyprus is supposed to undertake serious efforts to protect its own cultural patrimony.  Here is an email that was forwarded to me from a Cypriot coin dealer that alleges that Cyprus has done little to live up to its end of the MOU:

Dear Sir/Madam, I didn't know who else to send this email too so I hope you can forward it to the appropriate parties. I do not hold out much hope that it will make any difference but I have nothing to lose. Regarding the renewal of the Cyprus/USA MOU, it is my belief that Cyprus is in breach of at least 3 of the criteria in article II. Article II/C. states "The Government of the Republic of Cyprus will systematically continue to conduct the inventory of cultural resources in museums, ecclesiastical buildings, private collections and archaeological sites. Every effort should be made to engage all Cypriots in this effort." The last time the Department of Antiquities gave an amnesty for the registration of private collections of antiquities/coins was in 1996. An amendment to the current antiquities law has just been passed and we pressed the DOA and the 'lawmakers' to include another amnesty during this period but the DOA has categorically refused. I don't know if once in the last 16 years can be classed as a 'systematic inventory' but in my opinion it does not! Article II/D. states " The Government of the Republic of Cyprus will make every effort to discourage pillage of cultural resources, and the unauthorized export of such material, through public education programs, including posting appropriate signage at airports, hotels, museums, and other public areas that draw attention to this Memorandum of Understanding and to the cultural heritage protection laws of Cyprus, and introducing initiatives in support of the importance of protecting and preserving the cultural heritage into schools and to the general public." Nothing whatsoever suggested in this paragraph has been implemented. Article II/F. "The Government of the Republic of Cyprus will use its best efforts to allocate sufficient resources for site conservation, museum development, and the adequate conduct of salvage archaeology where there is proposed land development; and to ensure that such development, which can give rise to pillage, is fully monitored by the Department of Antiquities." I wont go into the "adequate conduct of salvage archaeology" as this is a joke in Cyprus. Concerning the "best efforts to allocate sufficient resources for site conservation" I think I have emailed about this before. Apart from a few of the main 'tourist attraction' archaeological sites, 95% of all other sites in Cyprus don't even have the basic deterrents needed to counter looting. In my opinion lighting is the most basic and most important of all deterrents needed and even the main sites do not have this. So, of the 9 criteria listed in the MOU, 5 are the sole responsibility of Cyprus. Of these 5 criteria 3 have DEFINITELY not been met, possibly more. 

An observer unfamiliar with the details of US State Department administration of the US response to the 1970 UNESCO Convention would very likely be puzzled by the rubber-stamp renewal of one of the most controversial actions that the Cultural Heritage Center has ever taken - issuance of the 2007 MOU with Cyprus which, for the first time, included ancient coins in the Restricted List.This led to howls of outrage from the coin collecting community, and ultimately to legal actions that are still pending, challenging both the right of the State Department to do that and the manner in which it was done.

Now we see that in Cyprus, as also in many other nations which have negotiated import restrictions with the USA, the criteria which the 1983 CCPIA - the authorizing law which established and in theory, governs the actions and decisions of the Cultural Heritage Center - imposed to ensure that these import restrictions would not be awarded wholesale, or without good cause, are being flouted and completely ignored. The State Department is obviously overlooking that, as it ritualistically goes through the steps prescribed by the CCPIA for consideration of the renewal of import restrictions.

What was originally intended to be a searching examination of whether sufficient justification for these restrictions continues to exist has evolved into routine reapproval of all MOUs without anything resembling genuine and evenhanded reconsideration. Our hypothetical observer might then wonder how it is that in the United States of America, which prides itself on being a nation ruled by law, a government agency is operating in a manner that clearly seems to be ignoring the law, and is instead following its own agenda - an agenda closely aligned with the archaeology lobby and the cultural ministries of foreign governments.

This observer might also note that the Cultural Heritage Center imposes obsessive secrecy upon its discussions with individuals in the archaeological community and in foreign governments, secrecy which makes it nearly impossible to understand how decisions are reached and negotiations are are conducted. It would be difficult for this hypothetical observer to avoid suspecting that somehow the Cultural Heritage Center has in some mysterious manner acquired carte blanche, the ability to do whatever it pleases without effective oversight by anyone and without accountability to anyone. The Cultural Heritage Center is not even making disclosures prescribed by law to Congress. How could such a state of affairs ever have arisen?
The Éminence grise
The answer to this riddle is that the Cultural Heritage Center is directed by an archaeologist of Greek ancestry, a pillar of the Greek Orthodox Church in Bethesda, Maryland, who has close ties to the Greek and Cypriot governments. Ever since the USA ratified the 1970 UNESCO Convention, this archaeologist has, in one capacity or another and at one agency or another, presided over operations of the CPAC - the fact-finding committee of experts that supposedly provides expert, unbiased advice on requests for import restrictions - and the State Department bureaucracy which implements decisions on these requests.

This archaeologist is Maria Papageorge Kouroupas, Executive Director of the Cultural Heritage Center. One of the most secretive, self-effacing individuals ever to occupy an important position in government, over the nearly thirty years during which she has controlled US response to 1970 UNESCO Convention, she has molded the Cultural Heritage Center and its forebears into instruments of her will and her ideals -- ideals that are relentlessly inimical to private antiquities collecting, and especially to the international trade that supplies collectors. Maria Kouroupas has so effectively mastered the secretive Byzantine arts of working almost invisibly behind the scenes to control political affairs that she has become the de facto arbiter of US cultural policy where antiquities are concerned.

What does this situation imply for the future? First, Maria Kouroupas is nearing retirement age and it seems extremely unlikely that anyone possessing her unique qualities would be found to succeed her. Second, despite the effectiveness of her control of policy, organized opposition to her actions and her agenda does exist.

The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild  [ ] is a non-profit organization committed to promoting the free and independent collecting of coins from antiquity. Its goal is to foster an environment in which the general public can confidently and legally acquire and hold any numismatic item of historical interest regardless of date or place of origin. 

The ACCG has provided a focus for collector outrage at  the actions of the Cultural Heritage Center, and has challenged these actions in Federal court. Readers interested in details of these challenges will find them on the ACCG website.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The New Cultural Reality

'This is reality': Spain slashes spending, raises taxes in $79B austerity plan

Spain announced a 65 billion euro ($79.85 billion) austerity package that includes tax hikes and spending cuts on Wednesday, a day after it won approval from its euro partners for a huge bailout of the country's stricken banks.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told parliament the country's future was at stake as Spain grapples with recession, a bloated deficit and investor wariness of its sovereign debt. He said the nearly $80 billion in savings will be achieved through 2015 by a hike in sales taxes and a series of spending cuts through 2015.

"We are living in a crucial moment which will determine our future and that of our families, that of our youth, of our welfare state," Rajoy said.

"This is the reality. There is no other and we have to get out of this hole and we have to do it as soon as possible and there is no room for fantasies or off-the cuff improvisations because there is no choice," he added.



Europe turns to corporate sponsors to preserve treasures amid financial crisis

The once-majestic 17th-century Palazzo Manfrin, one of this city’s most important architectural sites, is falling apart. Its white neoclassical facade is crumbling, several wooden doors are splintering, and its floor-to-ceiling frescoes have faded from age and water damage. The dire condition of the building has catapulted it to the top of the local government’s list for restorations. But after multiple rounds of cuts to its budget, there simply isn’t enough money.

So this year, local leaders made a painful decision. They put the palace up for sale.
Two years into Europe’s financial crisis, which has governments slashing spending in a bid to tame runaway debts, the region is facing a cultural calamity for which there is no emergency bailout fund. Historical buildings, churches, monuments, bridges, barracks, archaeological ruins and other sites are disintegrating from neglect. Local governments, desperate to find a way to preserve these sites before it is too late, are making up for budget shortfalls by hanging ads, selling usage rights and, in some cases, putting the structures themselves on the market.

In France, the caretakers of Versailles have agreed to let two hotels open on the palace grounds and have proposed ­licensing the image of the building for use on luxury watches. In Spain, planners eager for more tax revenue approved the construction of an office tower in the historic city center of Seville near the Gothic cathedral where Christopher Columbus is buried, ignoring threats from the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to disqualify the city as a World Heritage site if the project proceeded. And in Greece, the government voted this year to open sites such as the Parthenon, the Poseidon Temple and Delphi to cinematographers willing to pay per-minute fees.

Italy, home to 47 UNESCO World Heritage sites and 60,000 documented archaeological ruins — more than in any other country — is at the forefront of this trend.

Interested in buying the Manfrin palace? It could be yours for $20.5 million. How about exclusive rights to use the image of the Colosseum on your products for 15 years? $27.5 million. A giant billboard on the Milan Cathedral? That’ll be $187,000 a month.

Companies such as Coca-Cola, Bulgari, Ford and Hyundai have jumped at the opportunities. But in recent months, such deals have come under fire. Citizen groups have staged protests and filed lawsuits to try to stop officials from selling out Italy’s cultural treasures for what they say are cheap, temporary returns.



Purists may be aghast at the thought, but financial realities have caused nations struggling with intractable budget deficits to turn to corporate sponsors in an effort to save endangered cultural sites.  

Despite all the howling presently voiced by those who view such measures as "selling out national cultural treasures for cheap, temporary returns," there is a problem that must be dealt with -- it takes money, lots of money, to maintain these cultural treasures, especially when they have been neglected for decades.

Those making all this noise have nothing but noise to offer. They have no solution to propose, other than that governments should somehow be forced to continue to pay for repairing and maintaining cultural sites, museums, and all the apparatus of cultural ministries, archaeologists, curators and others who have conscientiously and devotedly struggled to make state custody of monuments, archaeological sites and antiquities succeed.

The new cultural reality is that governments can no longer afford to do that. For many decades the true costs of state ownership and custody of all cultural treasures have been hidden by deficit spending --  passed on to future generations. Now there is an enduring financial correction and reform environment that has stripped away the deceptions resorted to in the past, and is forcing governments not only to deal with today's problems today, but also to deal now with all of the deficits that had previously been passed on to future generations. That is the cause of the European financial crisis: the nanny state is bankrupt.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Greece, Italy and Spain whose economies lie in ruins, which are being forced to make very hard choices between preserving "the past" and living through the present. In such straits, noisemakers howling about "selling out national cultural treasures for cheap, temporary returns" are in danger of appearing to value their personal ideological convictions more than the welfare and perhaps even the survival of citizens who are struggling to survive massive unemployment and scarcity of many necessities of life.

It would make a great deal of economic sense for the governments of Greece, Italy and Spain to now begin a systematic, carefully planned cultural property triage process, whose purpose would be to move from their present "possess everything" policy toward a "possess only the important things" policy. A well-managed divestiture process for redundant objects would raise a great deal of very badly needed money, and would significantly reduce the inventory of objects to be safeguarded and cared for, with consequent savings in facilities and staffs (which anyhow cannot reasonably expect to be funded at their present level in the present crisis).

This sensible approach, however, would involve a significant political confrontation with those who have been campaigning since the 1960s to create, maintain and expand the present utopian cultural property edifice, which is now tottering from the combined effects of its own unmanageable dimensions and the present financial crisis. It would require both common sense and political courage to do that.

Lack of common sense and political courage in determining and managing the cultural policies of Greece, Italy and Spain was what created the present unsustainable situation. It remains to be seen how that situation will now be addressed by their responsible authorities.

One thing is clear: there will be a very significant change to the present system. What is yet to be determined is whether that reconciliation with reality will be responsibly planned and managed, or whether political expediency will once again prevail - in which case reality will make itself felt in a much less desirable manner.