Mar 28, 2008

Yours Truly on the Americana Show

SHMU is a community media organization, and it operates a volunteer radio station here in Aberdeen. It reminds me in many ways of some of the very best things about College and community radio back in the US.

I don't often write about it here, but one of the things that got me started researching cultural property issues were my early interest in copyright law in law school. It's perhaps a tenuous link, but the animating ideas behind a lot of my ideas on cultural property law and heritage are directly related to what I think about excessive copyright laws and other restrictions on how we consume music and visual works in digital form. No matter how easy it may become to find music in the future (either legally, illegally or quasi-legally) I think music still needs to be curated.

As such I was very pleased to be a guest on my good friend Dougie Thomson's Americana show last weekend. The man has an incredible knowledge of some great American tunes; and he was kind enough to let me bring in some of my favorites. The show will be archived for a few days if any care to listen in. I had a great time, though I think I need quite a bit of work on my DJ skills. Hopefully I was at least charmingly inept. If nothing else the contrast between my neutral midwest accent and Dougie's Scottish accent should be worth a listen. Those interested in the Slovenian sensation I mention on the show can learn about him here.

Peru Wants a Piece of the Black Swan

Sam Jones of the Guardian had an interesting article earlier this week updating the dispute between Spain and Odyssey Marine over the enormous shipwreck known as the Black Swan. Odyssey Marine recovered a massive amount of gold off the ocean floor, which may in fact be the wreck of the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes. The dispute is currently pending in US Federal Court in Florida; the admiralty law of salvage will most likely dictate that Odyssey Marine will at the very least get to keep a substantial portion of their haul provided the wreck was found in international waters.

Now it seems Peru has made claims:

But Madrid and Odyssey are now facing growing calls from Peru for some, or all, of the Mercedes' cargo to be returned to the South American country.
Peruvian campaigners say that because the gold and silver coins were probably minted from metal taken without permission by the Spaniards, they belong to the modern-day country, not its former colonial master.
Last year, Peru's production minister, Rafael Rey, said it was only "logical" that his country would seek the treasure's return.
Blanca Alva Guerrero, director of the defence of cultural patrimony at Peru's National Institute of Culture, said: "If we can establish that some or all of the recovered artefacts came from Peru, we are ready to reclaim them as material remnants of our past."
She added that Peru had a legal right to recover any items deemed part of its "cultural heritage".
Mariana Mould de Pease, a Peruvian historian who has successfully campaigned to oblige Yale University to return hundreds of artefacts taken from the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, said that although Spain had "acted duplicitously, and - where necessary - brutally" during the colonial period, she hoped a deal could be reached. "Given the historical ties between the two countries, I think Peru should join Spain in taking part in the scientific recovery of the ship's contents."
She said that Italy's recent success in securing the return of Roman items from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Getty Museum in the US had "already influenced countries such as Peru when it comes to taking legal action founded on cultural restitution".
Spain, however, has so far dismissed the Peruvian claim, saying that the Mercedes was sailing under a Spanish flag and pointing out that Peru did not exist as a country in 1804.
This appears to be nothing of substance backing this up. I do not see any way in which Peru could intervene in the dispute between Spain and Odyssey Marine. Perhaps others are aware of this kind of thing working in other contexts, but as vile as the conquistadors may have been, they weren't dealing with a legal entity or nation as they understood it. Peru did not exist when this gold was taken.
Also, many will of course note that the agreement between Yale and Peru is hardly a done deal, despite the fact its probably about as good a deal as Peru could get under the circumstances.

I'm also surprised at how the Italian repatriation successes of recent years are continuing to appear in circumstances which are wholly unrelated. The Odyssey project, as flawed as some may believe it was, appears completely legal, and is a far cry from the looting which the Italian repatriations were responding too.

UK Enforces Italy's Export Restrictions


European Council Directive 93/7/EEC creates a regime for the return of cultural property within the Community for cultural objects belonging to the national artistic, historical, or archaeological heritage which has been illegally exported from a member state.

Martin Bailey of the Art Newspaper has an example of this in practice. Two works by Francesco Guardi have been seized by Scotland yard in London. The paintings, The Departure of the Bucintoro to San Nicolo on the Lido and The Return of the Bucintoro to the Palaxxo Ducale (picture here) were owned by Lord Shuttleworth, and were later bought by an Italian, Mario Crespi in 1952. The paintings were purchased three years ago by an Italian art dealer, but it appears an export licence was made in Milan but the works were perhaps intentionally misattributed to an "anonymous artist" thereby allowing for their export. When a UK art dealer sought to re-export the works from the UK, he correctly labeled the works. The works may be worth "€6m ($9.4m) in Italy, but over £10m ($20m)" elsewhere.

Mar 26, 2008

Merryman on the Sevso Treasure (UPDATE)


John Henry Merryman has posted a thoughtful, provocative, and surely controversial working paper on SSRN, Thinking about the Sevso Treasure.

Abstract. The Sevso Treasure is an example of what are frequently called “unprovenanced antiquities.” Establishment archaeologists claim that by acquiring and showing them collectors and museums encourage looting, while collectors and museum officials contend that since the works have already been looted, they serve the public interest better if held by a museum or a collector (who may lend them to a museum). The demand for antiquities responds to a normal human interest in acquiring, enjoying and showing them. That demand could be met by a flow of provenanced objects in a licit international market, but retentive source nations, supported by establishment archaeologists, drastically constrict the supply, and an illicit market is the predictable result. Establishment archaeologists’ misguided campaign to have unprovenanced antiquities considered illicit unless proved licit unacceptably reverses the normal order of proof and creates a probatio diabolica. A museum interested in acquiring the Sevso Treasure should be encouraged to do so.

It's extremely well-written as Prof. Merryman's articles invariably are. However he sends a shot across the bow of the archaeological establishment, who will surely be quick to respond. The subject of the article is the Sevso treasure, and unprovenanced antiquities. The idea of classifying them as looted until proven otherwise is what Merryman calls a "probatio diabolica" or devil's proof. He's right in a sense, however many or all of these objects are more likely looted are they not? It's a quick and lively read, but surely controversial.

He raises the critique first articulated Paul Bator in his seminal article, that much source regulation produces the opposite of its intended effect. He also argues source nations eliminate the possibility of a licit market in antiquities, using Greece as an example. These are important arguments, and cultural policy makers are still grappling with them. The response from the other side will no doubt be just as lively.

I have to express a bit of disappointment with the article, as it seems likely to further divide folks into the nationalist/internationalist camp, which would seemingly make meaningful discourse more difficult.

He does ask a meaningful question though, and its one without an easy answer: what to do with the treasure now? There has been a jury trial on the merits, and neither Hungary nor Croatia were able to establish ownership in a New York court. The Trust which now owns the treasure has very few options. Should it not be on display somewhere? The likely looting has already taken place. Punishment of the looters is impossible at this point. Is there not some value in displaying or studying the treasure somewhere?

UPDATE:

David Gill has read the working paper now as well, and gives a thoughtful response over on his blog. He sees a potential contradiction:

But I find a mismatch in Merryman's approach. If he argues for our shared culture, does it matter if North American institutions (such as the AIA) and legal courts are in the forefront of protecting world ("cosmopolitan") heritage? Can North American import restrictions help to reduce the destruction of archaeological sites on, say, Cyprus?


I think this misses Merryman's core argument. Right or wrong, Merryman follows Paul Bator's reasoning that source nation regulation actually increases the illicit market. I imagine Merryman would counter that what he calls "retentive" source nation regulation exacerbates the problem, as the desire to collect and display antiquities is a given, and we need to find a licit market to ease demands on the regulation in source nations.

Essentially the two have a fundamental disagreement about how best to proceed: should we construct a licit market, or attempt to prevent individuals from purchasing antiquities. The former would seemingly require a shift in source nation laws, the latter would have to fundamentally alter the market, perhaps ending it entirely. Neither seem to be particularly likely.

Mar 24, 2008

Conference: The Fate of Cultural Property in Armed Conflict

The Lawyers' Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation is sponsoring an interesting and timely event on cultural property during armed conflict:

Protecting the Past: The Fate of Cultural Property in times of Armed Conflict

WHEN:
April 24, 2008
1:30pm - 4:30pm Program
4:30pm - 5:30pm Reception

WHERE:
National Trust for Historic Preservation
Board Room, 2nd floor
1785 Massachusetts Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20052

COST:
There isn't a cost to attend this event, but pre-registration is required, as space is limited

Register Online to Attend "Protecting the Past"

PROGRAM:

Panel I - Looking Back: Lessons Learned from Past Conflicts
Individual presentations, followed by questions.

Lynn H. Nicholas, Independent researcher of Nazi era social and
cultural policy and author of "Rape of Europa," will discuss Nazi and World
War II art looting, wartime preservation measures and post-War restitution.

Robert M. Edsel, Author of the non-fiction book, "Rescuing Da
Vinci," co-producer of the documentary film, "The Rape of Europa," and
Founder and President of the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation
of Art, will discuss the role of the WWII Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives
troops in protecting, preserving and restituting looted art.

András J. Riedlmayer, Harvard University, will discuss the
destruction of cultural property during the Balkan Wars of the 1990s.

Hays Parks, U.S. Department of Defense, will discuss the history of
and U.S. position toward the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of
Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.

Thomas R. Kline - Panel Chair, Attorney, Andrews Kurth LLP, and
Assistant Professorial Lecturer, GWU, Museum Studies Program.


Panel II - Looking Forward: Applying the Lessons Learned.
Round table discussion, followed by questions to members of both panels.

Corine Wegener, President, U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield;
Associate Curator, Architecture, Design, Decorative Arts, Craft, and
Sculpture at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts and Major (retired) in the
U.S. Army Reserve, will discuss looting and destruction of cultural property
at the Iraq National Museum and recovery efforts and also the role of the
Blue Shield in protecting cultural property in future conflicts.

John Russell, Professor, Massachusetts College of Art, and former
Senior Advisor to the Iraqi Ministry of Culture, Coalition Provisional
Authority, will discuss damage done to cultural heritage during the Iraq War
and efforts toward cooperation between the U.S. military and cultural
heritage professionals of different nationalities.

Richard Jackson, Special Assistant to the Judge Advocate General for
Law of War Matters and Army Colonel (Ret.), will discuss current attitudes
of the U.S. military toward the Hague Convention and obligations to preserve
cultural heritage during armed conflict.

Patty Gerstenblith - Panel Chair, Professor, DePaul College of Law,
and President, Lawyers' Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation.

Mar 21, 2008

Have American Museums Initiated "Real Change"?

Lee Rosenbaum has a very interesting post detailing her thoughts of the "Return of Cultural Objects" conference held in Athens this week. She participated in the panel titled "Museums, Sites and Cultural Context", and described her own presentation as follows:

[I] lampooned (and occasionally praised) strategies used in labeling and installing antiquities by American museums, which often have scant information about the archaeological context of objects in their collections. I was struck by the contrast between American labels and those at Athens' National Archaeological Museum, where almost every object is accompanied by information on where it was found.

I ended by championing the view that I share in common with my hosts, singling out two examples from U.S. museums that fit the Parthenon marbles theme---ancient objects that had been fragmented and should be reassembled through the amicable cooperation of the different owners.


However she expressed a more unpopular view when she argued, in sharp contrast to Ricardo Elia, that "there had been substantial recent changes in American museums' antiquities-collecting policies, which had been implemented to varying degrees." It's great to get this kind of quick reaction to the discussion. As to the substance of the claim, whether there has been real change, I think Rosenbaum is probably right, but only for a limited number of museums. A couple institutions, the Getty and the Indianapolis Museum of Art have very strict acquisition policies that are the gold-standard. However these kinds of policies are still voluntary, and there are a number of other institutions who are still dragging their feet. Look to the recent raids in California of LACMA and other institutions for evidence of a failure to reform. Ultimately, both Elia and Rosenbaum are correct, depending on which institutions they might be discussing.

This calls to mind the recent string of repatriations from North American institutions, which can be seen as responses to earlier acquisition policies which may have been lacking. Stacey Falkoff, a third-year law student at Brooklyn Law School has published an interesting student note, Mutually-Beneficial Repatriation Agreements: Returning Cultural Patrimony, Perpetuating the Illicit Antiquities Market in 16 Brooklyn Journal of Law and Policy 265 (2007). She does a great job of describing and compiling the recent string of repatriations, and draws some conclusions. She argues two things essentially, that these Mutually Beneficial Repatriation Agreements (MBRAs) actually perpetuate the illicit trade by mitigating the damage which these institutions suffer when a repatriation takes place, thereby making it easier for museums to acquire potentially-looted objects, and second they hamper the formation of judicial precedent utilizing international conventions.

Certain aspects of these MBRAs may be questioned, however she doesn't do a good enough job showing how the judicial interpretation may be needed, and she falls into the trap many student notes have of relying too much on secondary sources and other articles. I would give the piece high marks for thoroughly analyzing these recent agreements, and its well-researched as far as many of these secondary sources.

I'd argue the law may be complex in this area, but more judicial interpretation is not necessarily needed. I would come to a different conclusion. I think these repatriation agreements are a good thing, and I certainly think the Met will think twice before acquiring another "orphan" such as the Euphronios Krater, which was seen as suspicious when it was acquired.

Mar 20, 2008

Italian Police Seize 1,000 Artifacts... last year

The AP is reporting that Italian police have announced the raid of a wealthy Roman's country home and the seizure 1,000 artifacts. It seems the objects had been stolen years ago in 2002 from one of Emperor Trajan's villas. The suspect is not in custody, "The prosecutors declined to identify the suspect since authorities were still probing the theft, but said he was an affluent engineer who used the stolen artifacts to decorate his country home, inserting pieces of ancient Roman mosaics in his basement floor and decorating his fireplace and bathroom with other pieces."

This is a depressing announcement for a number of reasons. First, why did it take so long for the announcement. Second, the thefts appear have been taken from a known site, which is only partially excavated. By all accounts this is an extremely important archaeological site. What kind of site security was in place in 2002? If the known sites cannot even be protected, how can unknown tombs and undiscovered sites be adequately policed. This highlights that though the antiquities trade is international, not every buyer of looted Italian antiquities comes from outside Italy, and in fact the looters are most often Italian. Finally, will there be no criminal charges filed? The wheels of the Italian justice system seem particularly slow.

Mar 19, 2008

Insurgents Selling Antiquities in Iraq

The AP is reporting on the views of Marine Colonel Matthew Bogdanos, a participant in this weeks conference in Athens. Bogdanos is a New York assistant DA, and was instrumental in the efforts by US forces to undo much of the damage and looting which occurred when the invasion began.

He argued it was "undeniable" that extremist groups were using antiquities smuggling to gain funds. As he said, "the Taliban are using opium to finance their activities in Afghanistan... Well, they don't have opium in Iraq, what they have is an almost limitless supply of is antiquities. And so they're using antiquities." He even has heard from sources that Hezbollah is taxing antiquities.

The claim is open to speculation of course, because so much of the trade is hidden. However Bogdanos is a passionate and thoughtful advocate for the protection of Iraq's national heritage, and as such the Pentagon and World leaders would be wise to listen. The more attention the looting problem in Iraq receives the better. Unfortunately, the US and Europe are doing very little to prevent this smuggling or to protect archaeological sites in Iraq.

Sadly, I think antiquities from this region will be appearing on the market for decades to come, and as such buyers, who should perhaps know better, will be confronted with the same embarrassing legal and ethical questions which have plagued North American institutions in recent years in their acquisitions of antiquities from Southern Italy. Of course they can avoid this controversy by refusing to purchase potentially tainted objects.

Mar 18, 2008

The Long Shadow of the Parthenon


Michael Liapis, Greek Minister of Culture, gave the opening remarks at the conference on "Return of Cultural Property to its Country of Origin". He managed to get a good deal of press coverage, including a Reuters story.

Unfortunately I found his comments unhelpful, as did David Gill. He attempts to link the Greek quest for the return of the Parthenon marbles from the British Museum and elsewhere with the decisions by the Getty, the Met, and the MFA in Boston to return relatively recent and looted antiquities. The two claims could not be more different. One can be characterized as a historical dispute, while the others are examples of clear wrongful conduct, many of which involved criminal wrongdoing.

Liapis argues "More and more museums are adopting tighter ethics codes and governments promote bilateral and international cooperation (for the return of ancient objects)... So an ideal momentum is being created ... for clear solutions on this issue."

Gill responds, quite rightly, that the major difference between these two claims is context. We know where the Parthenon Marbles came from, we have their context. In fact one can see the context from the new Parthenon Museum, pictured here. However we don't know for sure where many of the looted antiquities which were returned in recent years came from. Their context is lost to us. He follows this up by asking a pointed question in return, will Greece take steps to return Bulgarian silver from the Pazardzhik Byzantine Silver Hoard?

Others have perhaps said this more persuasively than I, but I think cultural policymakers only make the situation worse when they link historical events such as Lord Elgin's removal of the marbles with recent criminal activity on a widespread scale. There may be a persuasive claim for the return of the marbles to Athens, however such a claim is not likely to succeed by making such unhelpful comparisons.

The closer link is with the Bulgarian silver, which it seems Greek's legal system is unable to adequately return to Bulgaria.

On an unrelated note, the Acropolis museum, where this event is being held was reviewed by Richard Lacayo.

Major Theft Outside Paris

Details are very slim still, but AFP is reporting that 30 paintings by Monet, Cezanne, Corot and Sisley have been stolen, along with a Rodin sculpture. The works were taken from an antiques dealer near Paris. Five men broke into the home in Le Pecq, and took the works. They abandoned their vehicle in a nearby wooded area and burned it.

Mar 17, 2008

18th Anniversary of the Gardner Theft


Today is St. Patrick's day, which marks the 18th anniversary of the thefts from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. The director of the museum, Anne Hawley repeated the offer that the Museum would pay $5 million for information leading to the recovery of the works. As her statement on Friday said, "the theft of these rare and important treasures of art is a tragic loss to the art world and to society as a whole," Hawley said in her statement. "Imagine never being able to hear a performance of Beethoven's Fifth, read Herman Melville's "Moby Dick," or listen to a Louis Armstrong jazz piece ever again . . . The loss of these remarkable masterpieces removes a part of our culture essential to our society."

Pictured here is The Concert, by Vermeer perhaps the most valuable and important of the stolen works.

Mar 14, 2008

Conference: Return of Cultural Property to its Country of Origin.

Next week in Athens at the New Acropolis Museum, the Hellenic Ministry of Culture, in cooperation with UNESCO will sponsor a conference on "Return of Cultural Property to its Country of Origin". Here is an excerpt of the press release by UNESCO:


The conference participants will reflect upon and exchange experiences on the issue of the return of cultural property, examining several successful return cases, including: the Axum Obelisk from Italy to Ethiopia, the return of the Stone Birds of Great Zimbabwe from Germany to Zimbabwe, the return of human remains to the Ngarrindjeri Aboriginal tribe of South Australia, the “Utimut” cooperation project for the return of cultural objects from Denmark to Greenland, the reunification of a Neo-Sumerian alabaster figure (cooperation project between the Louvre Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of New York) and the case of the ceremonial mask of the Kwakwaka'wakw people of Vancouver Island between the British Museum and Canada.

On the second day, four thematic workshops will debate:
• Ethical and Legal Aspects,
• Mediation and Cultural Diplomacy,
• Museums, Sites and Cultural Context
• International Cooperation and Research.

Discussions will also take place on ways to strengthen the action of the Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in case of Illicit Appropriation.

Established by UNESCO in 1978, the Intergovernmental Committee provides a framework for discussion and negotiation on the return or restitution of cultural property. The committee, composed of 22 elected member states, remains strictly advisory, establishing forums for debate and offering non-legally binding recommendations.

Proceedings will be published and made available for the 15th session of the Intergovernmental Committee, scheduled for June 2009. The return and restitution of cultural property will also be the theme of another meeting to be held in November this year in Seoul (Republic of Korea), where an extraordinary session of the Intergovernmental Committee will be held to mark its 30th anniversary.

* The New Acropolis Museum, 2-4 Makriyanni Str, 117 42, Athens Greece


A Program of the events is here, and an impressive cast of heritage thinkers and experts have been assembled, including at least two fellow bloggers, Lee Rosenbaum and David Gill who will hopefully share their thoughts when they return.

Mar 13, 2008

Compensation for Restitution Experts

Elise Viebeck, a student writer for the Claremont Independent has an outstanding article about the conflicts of interest which arise when history and art history experts are brought in to assist the heirs of victims who lost valuable art to the Nazis during World War II. She details the actions of a CMC History Professor, Jonathan Petropoulos.

The article asks an important question: How should these experts, whose specialized knowledge can bring about the restitution of ultra-valuable masterworks be compensated? Swiss prosecutor Ivo Hoppler raided a Swiss safe in the Summer of 2007 as part of a "three-nation probe of a German art dealer accused of conspiring with an American at historian to withold a painting by French impressionist". I talked about the discovery of the work at issue, Camille Pisarro's Le Quai Malaquais, Printemps last summer, but was unaware of this controversy.

Here's an excerpt of Viebeck's interesting story:

The story of the Pissarro begins with Zurich resident Gisela Fischer, 78, who is of Jewish descent. She and her family fled Vienna in 1938 two days after the Nazi Anschluss. The Gestapo looted their home, and among the stolen items was a painting by impressionist Camille Pissarro, Le Quai Malaquais, Printemps.

After the war, Fischer's father successfully located and reclaimed many of his family's stolen assets. After her father's death in 1995, Fischer concentrated her efforts on the Pissarro which had remained elusive. In early 2001, she registered the painting with the Art Loss Register (ALR), a London-based for-profit company involved in stolen art recovery.

The ALR began to research the painting's provenance, or history of ownership, in the hope of ascertaining its location. There was no initial financial arrangement, as at that time the ALR did not charge for Holocaust and World War II art claims...

On January 8, 2007, at a meeting in Munich, a representative of the ALR gave Fischer a message from Petropoulos. He wrote in a letter dated December 7, 2006 that he had located the painting in Switzerland and was communicating with an unnamed contact of its owner. The owner was a "foundation created by the heirs of the person who purchased [the painting] in 1957."

The foundation, he wrote, wished to remain anonymous.

Two days after the meeting in Munich, Radcliffe also sent Fischer a letter, this time to request a finder's fee for the organization's success in finding the Pissarro in Switzerland. Despite its earlier commitment not to charge Holocaust claimants, the company had changed its charging policy for Holocaust art claims, telling claimants that the company could complete restitution "at far less cost and often more efficiently" than the expensive lawyers who took some cases. The meeting with the ALR in January 2007 was the first Fischer knew of the ALR's changed policy...

For the Pissarro case, Radcliffe proposed an elaborate compensation scheme, including 20 percent of the first $1 million, 15 percent of the second million and 10 percent of any additional value of the painting. Included in his price was a stipend for Professor Petropoulos, who had requested $100,000 from the ALR for his services.

In a letter dated January 23, Fischer's lawyer, Dr. Norbert Kückelmann, rejected the ALR's proposal. Three days later Petropoulos met with Fischer at the Hotel St. Gotthart in Zurich to try a new arrangement...

Radcliffe and Sarah Jackson of the Art Loss Register also went to Zurich, only to find themselves excluded from the dealings. "We went expecting to be included in the meetings with Ms. Fischer only to discover that they had already had meetings without us. We realized we had been cut out," Radcliffe told the CI.

At the hotel, Petropoulos and Peter Griebert, a Munich art dealer, showed her digital photos of the Pissarro, claiming to have taken them that morning. According to an account published in ARTNews magazine, they did not give further details about its location or the identity of its owners at that time.

It's a very interesting account, and I don't think Petropoulos, nor even the Art Loss Register are painted in a favorable light based on this account. Though much nazi restitution litigation rests on the assumption that the law should compensate the victims of the holocaust and other misappropriation, the engine driving these claims are the large sums of money these works can bring at auction. I think an interesting issue which needs to be researched in more detail is how and to what extent these restitution experts owe a duty to claimants.

Mar 12, 2008

Is culture a basic need?

Dheera Sujan, presenter of Earthbeat on Radio Netherlands has an interesting account of something called a Cultural Emergency Response, sponsored by the Prince Claus Fund. You can listen to the show here.

It's an international aid organization which both attempts to rescue and preserve culture during times of conflict, when "culture is the first to go and often the last thing on anyone's mind." The organization aims to prevent acts of destruction such as the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan, the Serb bombing the library of Sarajevo, and indeed the loss to Iraq's heritage when the US the UK, and the other coalition countries invaded Iraq in 2003.

Aid organizations often don't focus on cultural loss, they are tasked with other matters such as humanitarian and other assistance; the CER attempts to fill t;his gap. Els van der Plas, director of the Prince Claus Fund says "We feel that culture is a basic need and we think that rescuing culture can give people a sense of hope and direction."

When a disaster or armed conflict occurs, an application can be submitted for up to 35,000 euros for a project, so long as it is completed within six months. The CER has sponsored a number of projects. In Nablus it helped stabilize the foundations of historic houses which were being damaged by the widening of roads used by the Israeli army; in Morocco, it funded the rebuilding of a mosque destroyed by an earthquake. In Afghanistan, it restored a synagogue in Heart which had been damaged by flood in conjunction with the Aga Khan Trust. As the radio piece argues, "the Jewish community is long gone from Afghanistan but the beauty of the building is undeniable. It's also a beautiful metaphor for tolerance: a Western and a Muslim [organization] collaborating with primarily Muslim workers together to rebuild a Jewish synagogue in a Muslim country where the Jews are gone - so that their history may remain."

These kinds of rebuilding efforts are symbolic and a powerful symbol. One wonders if the US and other coalition forces would have had a better result in Iraq and Afghanistan had they spent more time and effort on this kind of cultural aid, rather than what one Iraqi predicted for his nation after the invasion "Democracy! Whiskey! Sexy!".

Mar 11, 2008

Update on the Baghdad Museum

Martin Bailey has a very interesting interview with John Curtis, the Keeper of the Middle East at the British Museum on the current state of protection of archaeological sites in Iraq, now that we are approaching the five-year anniversary of the invasion, and the looting of the museum which soon followed. Here's an excerpt:

TAN: How serious is looting of archaeological sites?

JC: The situation has been very bad, particularly in the south, at sites such as Isin, Tell Jokha (ancient Umma) and Bismaya (ancient Adab). However, recently there seems to have been an improvement. Professor Elizabeth Stone of Stony Brook University in New York State is monitoring satellite images of sites for evidence of digging. There now seems to be quite a falling off in the digging.

TAN: Why the improvement?

JC: Dr Abbas al-Hussainy, until recently the head of antiquities, had good contacts with tribal groups in the south and he stressed to them the importance of preserving sites. Another reason is that the market seems to have dried up, and there is no point in digging if you cannot realise quick profits. There may have been an improvement in policing of sites, but this is very recent, only in the past few months.

TAN: Are looted Iraqi antiquities turning up in western markets?

JC: There doesn’t seem to have been much Iraqi material appearing in London or western markets, and very little on eBay. There may be collectors buying in the Gulf states and the Far East, but this is speculation. Probably a lot of the looted material has remained in Iraq.

TAN: How much damage has been caused to sites by Coalition troops?

JC: Iraq is a vast archaeological site. You cannot have military manoeuvres without causing a great deal of damage.


I expect a number of new five-year what now retrospectives on the looting of the Baghdad museum, and the ongoing looting in Iraq. It seems to me that this issue is still under-reported, particularly by American journalists. What are American and Iraqi officials doing to safeguard sites? Sadly, I think they are doing very little, because the security situation in the country remains unstable.

Mar 10, 2008

Should Cultural Property be used to satisfy judgments?


There has been increasing attention paid lately to the use of art and antiquities to satisfy unrelated judgments against nations. In 2005, Russia had a $1 billion shipment of 54 paintings from Moscow's Pushkin Fine Arts Museum seized at the Swiss border to satisfy Russian debts owed to Noga.

Similarly, in 2003 a group of American plaintiffs won a $90 million judgment against the Islamic Republic of Iran for a suicide bombing which took place in Jerusalem in 1997. James Wawrzniak Jr., a recent Harvard Law graduate has posted an excellent working paper on bepress titled Rubin v. The Islamic Republic of Iran: A Struggle for control of Persian Antiquities in America. It is likely to be published next fall.

Hamas claimed responsibility for the bombing in question, and the Rubin plaintiffs brought civil actions against Hamas, and also to Iran for providing material support and finance for the bombing. Experts testified that Iran provided both economic assistance from between $20 and $50 million dollars, and also terrorist training. Now I'm sure many readers would be quick to point out the US has given similar aid to similar groups, perhaps even during this Sunni awakening in Iraq, in which the US is essentially paying Sunnis to stop attacking coalition forces. I imagine Iran would have had a vigorous potential defense, however a default judgment was entered, whereby Iran essentially ignored the suit. Iran has since changed their stance after the Rubin plaintiffs decided to execute the $90 million judgment by claiming Persian antiquities in museum collections across the country. I'll defer to Wawrzniak's analysis as to what has transpired, but this litigation seems destined to last a number of more years.

One one level I can sympathize with plaintiffs who attempt to satisfy their judgments in this way. However, such a strategy, if taken to its logical conclusion would have troubling consequences for the cross-border movement of works of art. This was an issue in the recent dispute over the Royal Academy display of "From Russia: French and Russian Master Paintings 1870-1925 From Moscow and St. Petersburg". Russia nearly backed out of the deal, eager to avoid a replay of the Portriat of Wally litigation.

The display required an act of Parliament to grant special immunity to prevent the works from being claimed by descendants of the original owners from whom many of the works were summarily seized during the Bolshevik revolution.

The question is, are the cultural benefits Great Britain and Russia share by viewing these masterworks, many never seen in London before? I think there is, and this cross-border movement of art is an important ideal which should be preserved, the recent string of nazi spoliation, and terrorist and other claims are important, and those victims deserve their day in court. However it should not be at the expense of our collective cultural heritage.

(Photo: Wassily Kandinsky Composition VII, 1913 on loan to the Royal Academy)

Mar 7, 2008

The Doctrine of Discovery, the US and New Zealand

The Doctrine of Discovery is an international legal principle which justifies property rights over new-found territories. The doctrine is still very much alive today. Russia evoked it when it placed its flag on the Arctic Ocean floor in 2007 to claim the potential oil and gas reserves there.

Robert J. Miller, of Lewis & Clark
, and Jacinta Ruru, of the University of Otago, have posted a new comparative law working paper on SSRN, An Indigenous Lens into Comparative Law: The Doctrine of Discovery in the United States and New Zealand.


Here's the abstract:


North America and New Zealand were colonized by England under an international legal principle that is known today as the Doctrine of Discovery. When Europeans set out to explore and exploit new lands in the fifteenth through the twentieth centuries, they justified their sovereign and property claims over these territories and the Indigenous people with the Discovery Doctrine. This legal principle was justified by religious and ethnocentric ideas of European and Christian superiority over the other cultures, religions, and races of the world. The Doctrine provided that newly-arrived Europeans automatically acquired property rights in the lands of Native people and gained political and commercial rights over the inhabitants. England was an avid supporter of the Doctrine and used it around the world. The English colonial governments and colonists in New Zealand and America, and later the American state and federal governments and New Zealand governments, all utilized Discovery and still use it today to exercise legal rights to Native lands and to control their Indigenous people. In this article, the authors, an American Indian and a New Zealand Maori, use a comparative law methodology to trace and compare the legal and historical application of Discovery in both countries. The evidence uncovered helps to explain the current state of United States Indian law and the New Zealand law relating to Maoris. While the countries did not apply the elements of Discovery in the exact same manner, and at the same time periods, the similarities of their use of Discovery are striking and not the least bit surprising since the Doctrine was English law. Viewing American and New Zealand history in light of the international law Doctrine of Discovery helps to expand one's knowledge of both countries and their Indigenous peoples.


It's a great read, and the doctrine of discovery has a lot to do with the difficulty cultural policy makes had in formulating a cohesive national and international legal regime to handle, regulate, and restrict the trade in cultural objects. Much of the very restrictive cultural patrimony laws in many nations of origin can be directly attributed I think to the massive cultural and economic drain which took place when European colonists discovered new lands.

(Hat tip)

Mar 5, 2008

Debate on the Portable Antiquities Scheme (UPDATE)

The domestic legal and policy framework for portable antiquities in England and Wales is unique, and differs from the typical approach. Three things set it apart from most other nations of origin. First is the limited state ownership of undiscovered antiquities, the second compensation to finders of the full price of their finds if the find is acquired legally, and perhaps most importantly is the legalization of indiscriminate digging in many areas.

Metal detecting is legal in the UK, and is only prohibited in specially designated areas, known as scheduled ancient monuments.

Only limited classes of objects become the property of the crown when they are discovered. This includes objects composed of at least 10% gold or silver, multiple ancient coins, and prehistoric base-metals, which are objects such as bronze. Pottery and carved objects become the property of the finder.

All other objects become the property of the finder, and in some cases landowners and finders share the value of finds. Finders of objects encompassed under the Treasure Act are entitled to the full market value of the find, as estimated by an evaluation committee.

The PAS is a voluntary scheme which fills the gaps left by the treasure act. There exists some confusion about the scheme, as a lot of commentators incorrectly talk about the scheme as shorthand for compensating finders of antiquities. Such a measure already exists outwith the PAS. However, the PAS is a voluntary network, organized by a national network of finds liaison officers. They speak with metal detecting groups about good practice, conduct community outreach programs, and most importantly record finds. They are often based in local museums or archaeology departments. In some cases, museums approach finders and purchase these objects.

One of the most positive impacts of the scheme is its database, an impressive accumulation of information, with over 300,000 objects recorded.

The scheme has led to a dramatic increase in the number of objects being reported, and a dramatic increase in objects which finders have always been legally-required to disclaim.

This begs the question: should the approach of England and Wales to Antiquities be adapted to other nations? I think the national network of FLO’s has been tremendously successful, and setting aside the issues of cost and implementation, would ideally be implemented everywhere. In England and Wales, nearly 90% of finds take place on cultivated land, where industrial farming practices and chemicals can potentially damage objects near the surface.

The question of whether the limited state ownership of undiscovered antiquities, the compensation to finders of the full price of their finds, and the legalization of indiscriminate digging can be adapted to other nations remains in some doubt. It should be noted that the legal prohibitions on antiquities digging in England and Wales are far more lenient than in nearly every other nation. The policy sacrifices archaeological context without question.

If we compare Scotland, which has an ownership interest in all undiscovered antiquities with England and Wales the data would seem to lend support to the notion that declaring an ownership interest of only limited classes of objects, and only prohibiting digging in limited areas has produced better results. Between 1998 and 2004, Scotland reported an average of just over 300 finds. During the same period, an average of just over 300 objects which qualify as treasure were recorded, but there was an average of nearly 40,000 finds reported by the portable antiquities scheme per year.

The scheme resulted in a dramatic increase in the reporting of treasure. A small portion of this increase may be explained by the widening of scope of the treasure act. However, I think we can draw two conclusions from the scheme:

First, if individuals are compensated for finding antiquities they will look for them, and find them, in some cases this damages the archaeological context of course.

Second, as the specter of increased criminal investigation of the antiquities trade and seems increasingly likely, with massive investigations coming to light in recent days in both Italy and here in California I think certainly the trade itself will have to find ways to justify its continued existence. Should the antiquities trade continue to exist in some form, the approach in England and Wales would seem to offer an interesting, and inarguably a successful model.

It should be noted that legally sanctioning digging, or funding digging would be politically unpopular in many nations with a strong cultural identity, such as Italy. I think cultural policy makers should approach any strategy which might incentivize digging with great caution.

There's a couple of interesting items on the Portable Antiquities Scheme blog, and I'd like to boost the signal a bit and post them here. First is a video of Peter Twinn, a metal detectorist and archaeology student at Bristol Universtiy, who was interviewed in a brief piece on the BBC.




In addition, this afternoon at 4.30 GMT, there will be a half-hour debate in Westminster Hall on "The Future of the Portable Antiquities Scheme", and you can watch it live here on Parliament TV. I'll be watching, and I'll comment here later on today.

UPDATE:

Essentially the debate was a bit of a letdown. It's available here. It extolled the virtues of the scheme, but amounted to an argument about whether freezing the funding amounted to a de facto decrease in funding its operations.

I was struck again at how universally popular the scheme appears to be (though funding does not appear to share a correlation with popularity). There were no criticisms that it was perhaps incentivizing the looting of sites, but rather that it was as the Culture Minister Margaret Hodge claimed open to everyone from a secondary school student to doctoral dissertations. That seems the be the tremendous benefit of the scheme. I wonder if such a debate were held in Italy, or Iraq, or another source nation if there would be a similar kind of support for the program, or if its popularity may be a peculiar combination of cultural pride coupled with how and where objects are found in the countryside in most of England and Wales. I'll confess I haven't made my mind up on that question.




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