Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Time to Rethink the Italian MOU (and others)

"Beyond Ownership" is Dead; Time to Rethink the Italian MOU?

by Peter Tompa

The LA Times is reporting new information that sheds light on why Cleveland's long planned show of Sicilian antiquities is being cancelled.   Apparently, Sicily demanded that Cleveland pay an additional $700,000 in fees in order for the show to go on as planned. This figure is presumably in addition to the monies Cleveland had already pledged to the Getty, where the show originated.  The Cleveland Museum of Art wisely refused this demand, meaning the show will be cancelled.

Now, the Getty will be saddled with the entire $990,000 cost, some $300,000 more than anticipated.  All this should provide the Getty Trust's chief, Jim Cuno, with plenty of material for a new book.  Cuno has expressed serious qualms about Italy's approach to cultural property matters in the past.  Nevertheless, under his leadership, the Getty has made great efforts on Italy's behalf in recent years, both in terms of voluntarily repatriating objects and in assisting Italy's and Sicily's cultural establishments with funding and conservation help.  Yet, for all that effort, this is the kind of thanks the Getty has received from Italy and Sicily.

All this should also cause proponents of the MOU with Italy to rethink matters.  Now that U.S. Museums can no longer count on Italy to provide low cost short term loans, let alone the long term ones promised in the agreement, why should the U.S. continue to impose import restrictions on artifacts like ancient coins the Italians themselves actively and openly collect?

The Cultural Property Implementation Act allows the Cultural Property Advisory Committee to recommend that MOUs be suspended.  Perhaps time has now come to suspend the Italian MOU.  Clearly, Italy no longer honors the concept of loans, the key quid pro quo upon which the entire agreement is premised.  Why then should the interests of American museums, collectors and the small businesses of the numismatic and antiquities trade continue to be sacrificed?


Tompa asks (rhetorically and perhaps wryly) "Why then should the interests of American museums, collectors and the small businesses of the numismatic and antiquities trade continue to be sacrificed?"

He knows the answer to that question better than anyone else.

The interests of American museums, collectors and small businesses of the numismatic and antiquities trade will continue to be sacrificed for the "sacred" objective of pandering to the insatiable desires of the archaeology lobby and international state antiquities bureaucracies.

The high priestess presiding over the legalistic rituals whereby provisions enacted by Congress in the 1983 Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act have been twisted to further that objective will continue to be Maria Koroupas, who has never during the thirty years in which she has presided over the implementation of the 1983 CCPIA, revealed her true motives and goals, or the manner in which she has meticulously selected the staff reporting to her and members of the panel of experts responsible for reporting the impact and justification of import restrictions on antiquities, to ensure that her extreme personal bias against collectors and the antiquities trade would be reflected in their actions and reports.

Here is another example of a Parkinsonian dilemma: why is it sensible for democratic nations (the USA for example) to enact laws that will in practice be implemented by bureaucracies whose actions and regulations are likely to be motivated by undisclosed biases and private agendas, in a manner crassly violating the rights of many citizens, for the benefit of the interests of a very small minority of academics and officials of foreign governments?

The answer, of course, is that it is not sensible.The international establishment responsible for the disposition, possession and state custody of antiquities is corrupt and out of control. It has made a significant contribution to the impending bankruptcy of Greece, perhaps to be followed by Italy.

Some officials in so-called source states yield to the monetary temptation of looking the other way while smugglers violate laws against export of antiquities. That is an overt, easily recognized and universally condemned form of corruption.

A covert and in most cases imperceptible form of corruption is bureaucratic maladministration, driven by bias and private agendas, leading to actions and regulations pursuing the interests of a small minority of academics and officials of foreign governments.

Citizens of the USA and other democracies have a fundamental right to rely upon an administration that equitably and objectively enforces laws enacted by their elected legislatures, without bias or private agendas, for the benefit of the general public (with due respect for lawful interests of minorities).

Whenever this fundamental right is not respected by a bureaucracy, it becomes the duty of citizens to assert their ownership of the national government and its employees. Bureaucrats who violate that principle must go. Elected officials who do not get rid of such bureaucrats must also go.



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