Libya: looting claims rejected; propaganda accusations not denied

I had already blogged my distrust of the claims of an archaeological crisis in Libya: Bombing, Looting; Lobbying and Churnalism. Now, Andrew Lawler has reported ‘Claims of Mass Libyan Looting Rejected by Archaeologists‘ in Science magazine. I’ve also found a Russian TV interview with Nikolai Sologubovsky, in which he does not deny propagandising for the Gaddafi regime.

Mass looting claims rejected

(Lawler cited the Archaeology News Network reprint of the Hindu article, ‘Massive Looting of Ancient Artefacts Underway in Libya’.)

In Lawler’s article, well-informed King’s College London (KCL) archaeologist Hafed Walda said that Tripoli Museum had been ‘protected very well’, and that the ‘major sites’ (explicitly including Leptis Magna and Sabratha) had survived ‘unscathed’, but that ‘a few sites in the interior’ had suffered ‘minor damage’.

On his blog, archaeologist Paul Barford directed his readers to ‘note the slight difference’ between (pro-Gaddafi lobbyist Nikolai) Sologubovsky’s claim of ‘plunder since February’, and (retired Libyan antiquities director Ramadan) Geddedan’s claim that ‘nothing has happened since the fall of Tripoli’.

While I agree with Barford that we should ‘see what the UNESCO delegation is shown’, Geddedan did not only comment on the situation after the fall of Tripoli. Again in Lawler’s article, Geddedan also ‘confirm[ed]’ Walda’s assessment, which acknowledged the looting of ‘some ancient objects belonging to former President Muammar Gaddafi’ before the fall of Tripoli. Yet troublingly, for me, Sologubovsky is still being treated as a journalist, both by Barford and by Lawler.

Propaganda accusations not denied

Lawler noted that the archaeologists’ accounts contradicted ‘reports by Nikolai Sologubovsky, a journalist and deputy head of a Russian committee of solidarity with the people of Libya and Syria’, who ‘could not be reached for comment’ on those contradictions.

As I showed in my last blog post, Sologubovsky is the official publicist of the Russian Committee of Solidarity with the Peoples of Libya and Syria. And that “solidarity committee” is not a humanitarian organisation or a charity: it is an explicitly pro-Libyan dictatorship, pro-Syrian dictatorship lobbying group.

In an easy interview on the newspaper’s television channel (MK TV), Sologubovsky talked with journalist Andrei Yashlavski about “the Truth from Tripoli (Pravda iz Tripoli [Правда из Триполи])”. Below-the-line Guardian: Comment is Free (CiF) commenter theEclectic summarised it as ‘an interview with Sologubovsky denying that he is a paid Gaddafi mouthpiece‘. Yet Sologubovsky does not even do that.

Yashlavski:

Nikolay, your correspondence, which you sent from the danger zone for several weeks, has sparked great interest from readers of Moskovskii Komsomolets (Moscow Communist Youth) newspaper. Visitors to the site mk.ru also left different replies to your publications, from the most complimentary to the [most] negative.

Some cheered you on to continue. Others said that you were paid by Gaddafi; that you propagandise for his regime; that you call rebels ‘insurgent bands’; and [that you] protect that scoundrel, the Colonel, whom the whole world community is against. What can you say about this?’

Sologubovsky:

[smirks; laughs] Firstly,…. I just want to say that seeing something with your own eyes is better than hearing about it. I went there completely voluntarily, you can prove it….’

(Uploader and translator: zveroforma; I have copy-edited the English quoted in this blog post.)

Influencing public opinion

A link to Lawler’s article has appeared in Science magazine’s (global) science policy news aggregator, Science Insider (and also in its Facebook group and Twitter feed; and in Science‘s main Twitter feed, as a retweet of Science Insider). (Culture in Development has republished both Libyan Cultural Heritage in Danger of Going the Iraqi Way and Claims of Mass Libyan Looting Rejected by Archaeologists.)

It has been excerpted in blogs, like Medieval News; and news aggregators, like Archaeological News and Classical Archaeology News on Tumblr (and reblogged/microblogged from there).  It has been referred to by Archaeology magazine (which has been linked to by the Cincinnati Society of Archaeology‘s publisher, the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA); and by Shovelbums); and linked to by the Global Heritage Network (GHN); and blog aggregators, like Archaeology Matters (via Dorothy King’s PhDiva blog).

There have also been links in scientific social networks, like LabSpaces; on websites, like Graham Hancock‘s; in news aggregators, like Athenus, e! Science News, London South Bank University (LSBU) (and I think the University of Saskatchewan‘s Natural Sciences Library rolling newsfeed), the National Association of Science Writers (NASW), Newsodrome, (Czech) Science Week and, in context most unpleasantly, the Treasure Center.

The only (albeit brief) active, public interaction I have seen is on Democratic Underground. The poster of the link, Iterate, commented on the Russian origins of the lobby group: ‘[o]ne defamation at a time. Considering the sources for most of it, I wonder if they see it as a way of inoculating themselves from their own potential democratic uprisings’.

Notably, Lawler’s article has made an impact on professional opinion; it has not really been discussed, or even noticed, by the communities that read Radyuhin’s article.

(Update on public opinion added at 11.30am, 4th September 2011; public opinion updated at 1.40am, 15th September 2011.)

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