Sunday, October 23, 2011

I MoU, you MoU, we all MoU for Belize and Bulgaria

On November 15-17, the State Department's Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) will meet to consider creating Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) with the Republics of Belize and Bulgaria. For those of you who don't know, an MoU is a bilaterial agreement between states to prevent illegally acquired cultural property from one country in entering another country. Essentially, it's an agreement by the United States to restrict the import of undocumented archaeological objects, which is something they should just be doing anyway. Both Belize and Bulgaria have requested this agreement with the United States, and now, amazingly, you have an opportunity to show your support. 

I seriously urge you to submit comments to the Cultural Heritage Center to be considered during the CPAC meeting in November. This .pdf explains how. Rick St. Hilaire has advised that comments should address the "four determinations":
(A) [whether] the cultural patrimony of the State Party is in jeopardy from the pillage of archaeological or ethnological materials of the State Party; 

(B) [whether] the State Party has taken measures consistent with the Convention to protect its cultural patrimony;

(C) [whether] -- 
(i) the application of the import restrictions . . . with respect to archaeological or ethnological material of the State Party, if applied in concert with similar restrictions implemented, or to be implemented within a reasonable period of time, by those nations (whether or not State Parties [to the 1970 UNESCO Convention]) individually having a significant import trade in such material, would be of substantial benefit in deterring a serious situation of pillage, and 
(ii) remedies less drastic than the application of the restrictions set forth in such section are not available; and 

(D) [whether] the application of the import restrictions . . . in the particular circumstances is consistent with the general interest of the international community in the interchange of cultural property among nations for scientific, cultural, and educational purposes. 
Paul Barford has provided a how-to guide in understanding the issues involved and how to craft your support letters. 
You should also check out these articles by David O'Shea (that I found via David Gill) on the looting going on in Bulgaria: 
THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT. I know it's a lot of information, and I seriously just spent my evening reading all these articles, .pdfs, and holy crap this chapter on organized crime in Bulgaria trying to understand everything I can about this process, but it's not often that we're ALL given the opportunity to lend our voices to the creation of these laws. Please, take some time to write a little something something to help save the world's history from disappearing completely. 


  1. By all means read all this stuff. After doing so, you might conclude that the Bulgarian system is so screwed up because the Bulgarians themselves have screwed it up. The very detailed report from the Center for the Study of Democracy, though obviously largely written from an archaeological perspective, puts its finger on the major causes of the dysfunction: endemic corruption combined with a legal system that was erected without any input from collectors-- who are a force to be reckoned with in Bulgaria. Perhaps the CSD's recommendations should be put into effect, before the State Department and the AIA do more to suppress ancient coin collecting in the United States. Frankly, just to give the Bulgarian cultural bureaucrats and archaeologists what they want will do little other than butress the corrupt status quo.

    One final note. It is not to your credit that you and others associated with your cause do your part to promote Paul Barford and his brand of nastyness. Hopefully, you will learn over time that his despicable way of addressing the issues has done little other than annoy those who disagree with him and if anything stimulate a reaction.

  2. To the anonymous above: are you a collector of coins?


  3. Yes,and my name is Peter Tompa. For some reason, this blog would only let me post anonymously, but don't want/need to hide anything. I also do some work for two trade associations of the small businesses of the numismatic trade-- but all the blogging,etc. is on my own.

  4. Thank you, Peter.

    If not buttressing the Bulgarian corruption--not that there would be none in our country-- is there a way we can restrict the illicit trade in antiquities and the illegal digging all around the world? I want to help the Bulgarians but I am not interested in buying coins or collecting. Something must be done so that we learn about our past. I think the Bulgarian request is a start. And why not hope that this stops the plundering of sites? Isn't it better than nothing and just yelling at each other?


  5. Marcie- Thank you. I don't think American collectors or dealers for that matter would be too upset if US Customs interdicted illicitly exported coins from Bulgaria based on some credible information that they actually were illicitly excavated in that country. The problem is that the State Department and US Customs have also ignored an important legal provision that indictes that restrictions should only be applied to artifacts first discovered in a country like Bulgaria. Instead, they apply these regulations in a grossly overbroad manner that bars imports of any coin that may have been struck in Bulgaria at any time. We've pointed this out over and over again, and though CPAC has agreed with us, the State Department and Customs have instead decided to shift the burden of proof onto the collector.

    We think that is wrong and that is what this is really about.



  6. Are some of those opposing the proposed MOU with Bulgaria associated with coins derived from Bulgaria? Have a look at some of the discussion here.