MOU with Italy is a Fraud
by Peter Tompa
I heard it for myself at CPAC hearings concerning the MOU with Italy. Here was the deal as spun by the allies of the Italian Cultural Bureaucracy and the State Department Cultural Heritage Center in the Archaeological Institute of America and related groups: American collectors and museums would no longer be able to import unprovenanced artifacts. In return, the Italian Cultural Bureaucracy would allow long term loans of artifacts to American museums.
But what is the reality? Loans in fact only go to US Government institutions like the National Gallery of Art and museums that have repatriated artifacts. The good stuff only gets displayed here in the US for a short time and with substantial fees attached. And now, even this "cultural exchange" is in jeopardy as Sicily has decided to ban loans of important pieces from its own museums.
While I sympathize with Sicily and think it should get top dollar for loans, this turn of events again shows the MOU with Italy is a fraud. It is surely time for it to be scrapped. Really, what's wrong with Americans being able to import the same types of Italian artifacts collectors in Europe and indeed Italy itself have always been able to enjoy?
As Tompa observes, the MOU with Italy is indeed a fraud.
Italy does not offer loans of artifacts to the vast majority of US museums, but restricts artifact loans to only a few selected institutions - those operated by the US Government and those which have repatriated artifacts to Italy. These loans are not long-term but only short-term, and substantial fees are demanded. That is not at all in accordance with the picture that was painted during the CPAC hearings on the Italian MOU request. But it is not only the MOU with Italy which is a fraud.
The entire US system for implementing its response to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property has also become a fraud.
It did not start out that way. However, the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural affairs, responsible for implementing US response to the 1970 UNESCO Convention, and its predecessor bureaus and agencies have been dominated by an anticollecting archaeologist with a concealed private agenda -- Maria Kouroupas.
In 1984 Kouroupas joined the United States Information Agency, becoming Deputy Director of the Cultural Preservation Advisory Committee. In 1993 she was named its director, and also served as the executive director of the Committee before coming to The Cultural Heritage Center in that same capacity.
Since then Kouroupas has unobtrusively and relentlessly manipulated the Cultural Preservation Advisory Committee and the actions of the Cultural Heritage Center, until the State Department has become an overt enemy of US antiquities collectors and the trade that supplies them.
Needless to say, this is not what Congress intended in enacting the 1983 CCPIA implementing the 1970 UNESCO Convention. It is in fact exactly what knowledgeable experts in the antiquities trade predicted before enactment of the CCPIA that the State Department would ultimately do. Their worst fears have been realized.
Deception and fraud rule the operations of the Cultural Heritage Center. Ritualistic sham processes cloak the pathway to predetermined bureaucratic decisions, all under a veil of secrecy intended to prevent the American public from realizing what has happened.