Cultural policy Greece

Clinton signs memorandum with Greece restricting import of antiquities

New agreement looks to end looting and black market sales by reducing the incentive to illegally remove such objects in the first place

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs Stavros Lambrinidis sign the Memorandum of Understanding at the Acropolis Museum

ATHENS. While in the Greece on a diplomatic visit this weekend, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs, Stavros Lambrinidis, concerning the imposition of import restrictions on archaeological and Byzantine objects. The new memorandum, which still has to be ratified by the Greek Parliament, would make it illegal for protected works of art to enter the US without the approval of Greek authorities.

The signing of the memorandum was yet another demonstration of the US government’s vocal support of Greece’s austerity measures to help the debt-ridden country get back on its feet. “America is just as committed to Greece’s future as we are to preserving your past,” Clinton said at the signing. “During these difficult economic times, we will stand with you. We are confident that the nation that built the Parthenon, invented democracy, and inspired the world can rise to the current challenge.”

According to a fact sheet released by the US State Department, “the agreement will strengthen collaboration to reduce looting and trafficking of antiquities, and provide for their return to Greece. It also aims to further the international interchange of such materials for cultural, educational, and scientific purposes.”

“We are trying to protect our treasures from illegal diggings and excavations,” Lambrinidis said at the signing. “That is why this MOU that we’re about to sign is so important.” Clinton said that the agreement “will protect Greece’s culturally significant objects even further from looting and sale on the international market” by helping to “reduce the incentive to illegally remove such objects in the first place”. She added: “We know from experience that measures like this work. This will be our 15th cultural property agreement. And in countries from Cambodia to Cyprus, we have seen real results.”

Some groups have not been as keen to embrace import restrictions. In October 2010 the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) submitted testimony to the State Department’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee criticising an extension of the memorandum for being “overly broad” and suggesting that the new agreement include provisions for long-term loans and a licit market for antiquities. The AAMD’s attorney Stephen J. Knerly, Jr also claimed that “Greece has not taken sufficient measures to protect its cultural property and its efforts towards protecting its archaeological sites to date are not adequate”.

The secrecy surrounding the decision-making process of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee has also been called into question. ArtsJournal writer Lee Rosenbaum (aka Culturegrrl) said on her blog: “I think that under American law, any agreement that we have officially signed ought to be public information. There is already too much secrecy in how CPAC, a federal government advisory body, operates. Once a State Department decision regarding foreign cultural-property requests is finalized, the full extent of what has been agreed to should be promptly disclosed to the American public.”

The State Department says that “a list of the types of archaeological and ecclesiastical ethnological material that will require documentation to be brought into the US” will be published in the Federal Register. “The restricted material will include objects generally associated with the Upper Paleolithic through Late Byzantine periods. The agreement and Federal Register notice will be published after the Governments have notified each other by diplomatic note that each has completed all the internal requirements for the agreement’s entry into force.”

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