Wednesday, November 2, 2011

American Research Center in Sofia Comments on Bulgaria MoU Request – CPAC Public Comments Deadline is Today

A vessel from the Rogozen treasure,
National Historical Museum,
Sofia, Bulgaria.
Author: Nenko Lazarof
Today is the last day to file public comments with the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) regarding Bulgaria’s request for a Memorandum of Understanding.  Comments may be filed electronically here.

One noteworthy submission was made by the President of the Board of Trustees of the American Research Center in Sofia (ARCS), Kevin Clinton. ARCS is made up of member institutions that include Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Yale and many more institutions. (Click here for the full list.)  Clinton write on behalf of ARCS:

“I can report that ARCS strongly supports the requested MOU on Bulgarian cultural property. Incorporated in New York in 2004, ARCS . . . is supported by a consortium of approximately 70 institutions of higher learning in North America.
We at ARCS were first confronted with the severity of the problem during our first academic session, in the summer of 2006. After a lecture by Professor Lyudmil Vagalinski, currently the Director of the National Institute of Archaeology and Museum of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences (NIAM-BAS), he was asked by one of the American students whether illegal trafficking in antiquities was a problem. He responded by saying: “Bulgaria is being systematically raped of its cultural heritage.” To give us an example, he recounted an incident from 1999, when he happened to be at a conference in Frankfurt am Main. Customs at the Frankfurt airport seized a crate, illegally sent from Bulgaria and destined for the US, containing many ancient artifacts (coins, bronze statuettes etc.) illegally excavated in Bulgaria. Officials of the Ministry of Culture of the province of Hessen consulted him at the conference and told him at least two similar shipments had been let pass to the USA via the Frankfurt airport. When Bulgarian officials, after a bureaucratic delay, applied to German authorities to get back the shipment, they were told it was sent on to the US (after a Customs fine was levied) because Bulgaria had no contract on cultural property with the European Union and no MOU with the US. He was profoundly disappointed. He also pointed out to us that he was receiving a steady stream of e-mails from the US asking him to authenticate ancient artifacts that obviously had been illegally exported from Bulgaria (Determination C, 303(a)(1) CPIA)."

"In my travels throughout Bulgaria, I frequently found signs of looting, especially prevalent in the funeral mounds, where one can often still see tunnels dug by modern looters; such activity is noted also in virtually every excavation report. As one who has worked at archaeological sites, I am well aware of the devastation that illegal excavation and exportation cause, not simply by the loss of valuable and unique objects but by stripping sites to such an extent that they lose their historical and cultural identity. Looting of course can greatly hinder or even annul archaeological investigation, since such investigation requires a complete context, including even the most minute objects, for proper evaluation. More importantly, it robs a people of its historical and cultural memory, especially when it takes place on such a grand scale as has been happening in Bulgaria. Loss of historical and cultural memory is corrosive to a nation’s identity and humane development.”

The public submission by ARCS to CPAC can be found here.
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