by Peter Tompa
Despite the uncritical coverage in the archaeological blogoshpere, one has to wonder about the accuracy of recent press reports that claim Bulgarian police have smashed a ring of Thracian tomb raiders. Though admittedly the photo that accompanies the story is not very clear, from what I can tell it only shows bright, regularly shaped modern coins and artifacts. One would expect instead to see darkly colored patinas associated with long burials if this is really a major bust of "tomb raiders."
During CPAC's consideration of the proposed Bulgarian MOU, it was revealed that Bulgaria's corrupt police all too often hype such seizures in order to make it appear that their efforts are far more effective than they truly are in reality. The picture accompanying this story raises the question if the Bulgarian police are still more interested in looking good rather than doing good in their jobs. Hopefully, there will be some clarification of whether the image is that of the actual seizure and, if so, whether the coins are of ancient or modern origin.
Tompa's critical examination of the latest "Bulgarian bust" highlights a major issue affecting law enforcement in "source states." Corruption is pervasive and so is deceptive publicity seeking, often to present a misleading impression that the authorities are taking effective action against looting and smuggling.
US law governing implementation of the 1970 UNESCO Convention, which provides for import restrictions on artifacts, also requires critical examination of law enforcement activities in states requesting such restrictions.
To date there is absolutely no evidence indicating that the State Department has done anything at all to research and examine law enforcement in states requesting import restrictions.
Instead, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, directed by archaeologist Maria Kouroupas, routinely rubber stamps such requests without any genuine investigation or questioning regarding the bona fides of requesting states or whether the restrictions would really be in the best interests of US citizens.
That policy impresses this observer as dangerous and counterproductive. If the US - the state with the largest antiquities market - instead actively pursued the research and examination of foreign law enforcement required by the 1983 CCPIA, many requests for restrictions would be denied. That would inevitably motivate requesting states to clean up corruption and sham activities pervading their law enforcement organizations.
Cleaning up the sham activities pervading the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs will however probably have to wait until Maria Kouroupas retires.