Friday, June 24, 2016

New German Cultural Heritage Protection Legislation

Germany Passes Massively Controversial Cultural Heritage Legislation

State Minister Monika Gruetters (CDU) arrives for the weekly German federal Cabinet meeting on June 1, 2016 in Berlin, Germany. High on the meeting's agenda was discussion of the German military's presence abroad. Courtesy of Adam Berry/Getty Images.
State Minister Monika Gruetters (CDU)

"Despite protest from all quarters of Germany's art scene, the country's parliament, the Bundestag, approved the passage of the controversial cultural heritage protection legislation today, reports Deutsche Presse-Agentur.

The ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party and its coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), voted for culture minister Monika Grütters's proposed amendment without challenge from the opposition, which abstained.
The law seeks to prevent the export of nationally significant cultural goods. However, the legislation was fiercely opposed by Germany's art dealers, artists, private collectors, art fairs, auction houses, museums, and just about everyone else working in the country's cultural sector."
This legislation was the subject of a petition organized by Ursula Kampmann, who courageously pressed the objections of collectors and the trade in an openPetition that ultimately amassed some 46,000 signatures worldwide.
"The stipulations of the amendment of the law on the Protection of Cultural Heritage threaten the collecting of cultural objects by private individuals. This law will effect everybody specialized in traditional collecting fields, such as books, stamps, furniture, ceramics, coins, classic cars and paintings. Retroactively, this new law will impose due diligence guidelines that are impossible to follow even for the most meticulous collector. When it comes to a dispute, the law will require, by reversing the burden of proof, the owner of a “cultural good” with a value of at least 2,500 euros to provide proof as to the item’s provenance for the previous 20 years; this affects “archaeological cultural goods” with a value as low as 100 euros. 
This is an unrealistic demand which misrepresents most of the objects that are currently traded on the domestic and the international art market in full accordance with the law as being illegal, and will result in a considerable decline in value of the objects in question." 
The petition, and with it the concerns and welfare of the large German collecting community and the important German art and antiquities trades, was ignored by the German government and the Bundestag. The legislation was not even discussed in the Bundestag, but was adopted without opposition.
It seems to this observer to be very probable that the German art, antiquities and numismatic trades will in large part shift to London, and that many long established German firms of high reputation will face a choice between relocation and going out of business.
It also seems probable that some other European nations will adopt similar cultural heritage legislation.
In this observer's opinion, such legislation clearly reflects a Socialist perspective that "cultural property" is to a significant extent the property of the State in which it is located, and that private individuals who collect or trade in such objects do not have full rights of ownership.
The manner in which this legislation was proposed and adopted is of course a matter for Germans to deal with. Others, however, who reside outside Germany are observing such arbitrary proceedings with concern, and forming their own opinions regarding whether this sort of government is what they would wish to be subjected to.

UPDATE 6/28/16


In a recent blog post, Warsaw English teacher (and sometime writer on archaeological subjects) Paul Barford opined:

Is German Antiquities Legislation "Socialist" (sic), "National Socialist" (sic) or Neither?

A California shopkeeper ('New German Cultural Heritage Protection Legislation' Friday, June 24, 2016) does not like the new German antiquities law:
such legislation clearly reflects a Socialist perspective that "cultural property" is to a significant extent the property of the State in which it is located
while a commentator on the same page contrarily suggests
There seems to be the whiff of: Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Fuhrer in the air. Perhaps it's me being over sensitive? Now it's easy to see why the UK ditched the unelected Eurocrats - who dream-up the EU's laws - for a return to democracy. .
Whether the legislation concerned claims state ownership of all cultural property has yet to be demonstrated by the shopkeeper. As for seeing Germany as a country of a single ethnicity under a dictatorship, one wonders what xenophobic newspapers this 'sensitive' Brexiter reads. Another claquer of Brexit in the collecting community (though ironically, himself - to judge by the name - from an eastern European immigrant family) agrees that the new law:
brings back bad memories of Germany's totalitarian past.
Though is coy about saying whether he means that of 1933-45 or 1949-1990.Instead of all this empty sniping, it would be good io see teh antiquities dealing and collecting lobbies discussing the actual text, rather than making puerile "looks like" comparisons.

The "commentator on the same page" added a comment that I essentially disagreed with (see comments section). The "claquer of Brexit in the collecting community" is Dr. Peter Tompa in this post to his blog.

Hmm. Where to start in commenting on all this? Let's begin with the question of my being a "shopkeeper" ( ) . To appreciate that bit of snark, one must realize that being "in trade" has historically been regarded amongst "upper class" Britons as a low-class pursuit. Well, I am not an "upper class" Briton (is Mr. Barford?) and such effete, antiquated snobbery means nothing at all in the USA. Being a well-known dealer in ancient coins with an award-winning website seems to me to be at least as "socially respectable" as being an English teacher in Warsaw, after a brief (and undistinguished) career in UK archaeology three decades ago.

"Brexit claquer" Tompa's lucid remarks utterly transcend Barford's feeble effort to to deflect attention. Both Tompa and I have previously discussed the "actual text" of this legislation in detail. The detailed openPetition analysis thereof was quite clear in its devastating indictment of the unfairness of this legislation to German collectors and dealers.

My observation that "such legislation clearly reflects a Socialist perspective that "cultural property" is to a significant extent the property of the State in which it is located, and that private individuals who collect or trade in such objects do not have full rights of ownership" stands. I don't have to "demonstrate" it - Monika Gruetters has already done that.