Saturday, August 03, 2013

Bank of Cyprus raids its depositors
by Peter Tompa

The Bank of Cyprus has raided its own depositor's money to stay afloat, taking 47.5% of deposits over 100,000 Euros.  The depositors are thus paying for the sins of their bankers, who stand accused of many of the same foibles as some of their American counterparts.

Ancient coin collectors may recall the the bank was a player in the controversial decision to impose import restrictions on coins "of Cypriot type."  Its cultural foundation supported that request, which has made it much more difficult for American collectors to compete with the bank for the same ancient  coins on the open market.  The bank appears to have also offered support for the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute.  CAARI  actively lobbied the State Department for the import ban, presumably using the considerable connections of Clay Constantinou, a CAARI trustee, campaign funds bundler, former ambassador, and lobbyist to convince the State Department to ignore the recommendations of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee to retain a longstanding exemption for coins.

Now, however, the bank should be concentrating on survival, not on coin collecting or supporting archaeological groups that lobby against the interests of collectors.  Perhaps then, its time to sell off its cultural foundation's coin collection, end any funding for CAARI and give the bank's battered depositors a break. 


As always, Tompa's suggestion makes a great deal of sense  -- and as always, nothing of the sort will actually be done.

In the strange world of state custody of antiquities, the door to the storeroom might bear these words of Dante:

"Lasciate oggi speranza, voi ch' entrate"  -- abandon all hope, ye who enter here."

This famous quote from his Inferno surely also applies to antiquities such as ancient coins, which once entered into State custody have no better hope of escaping into a private collection than damned souls have of escaping from Hell.

Thus the bank's battered depositors will not receive a break.


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.