Conflict antiquities’ rescue or ransom? The cost of buying back stolen cultural property in contexts of political violence.

Happily, following the “first half” of my study on private ‘rescue’-by-purchase of stolen cultural goods: the material and social consequences and the complicity of Europe and North America in the International Journal for Criminal Justice and Social Democracy, I’ve published the “second half” on conflict antiquities‘ rescue or ransom? The cost of buying back stolen cultural property in contexts of political violence in the International Journal of Cultural Property. Both are open-access publications.

Abstract

Rescue has long been a defense for the removal of cultural property. Since the explosion of iconoclasm in West Asia, North Africa, and West Africa, there has been a growing demand for cultural property in danger zones to be “rescued” by being purchased and given “asylum” in “safe zones” (typically, in the market countries of Western Europe and North America). This article reviews evidence from natural experiments with the “rescue” of looted antiquities and stolen artifacts from across Asia and Europe.

[The main cases concern antiquities and artifacts from Cambodia and Afghanistan (and ones that were from Pakistan yet were marketed as being from Afghanistan) and artworks from the Netherlands. Other examples include cultural goods from Cyprus, Syria and Iraq.]

Unsurprisingly, the evidence reaffirms that “rescue” incentivizes looting, smuggling, and corruption, as well as forgery, and the accompanying destruction of knowledge. More significantly, “rescue” facilitates the laundering of “ordinary” illicit assets and may contribute to revenue streams of criminal organizations and violent political organizations; it may even weaken international support for insecure democracies [such as Ukraine]. Ultimately, “rescue” by purchase appears incoherent, counter-productive, and dangerous for the victimized communities that it purports to support.

Citation

Hardy, S A. 2021: “Conflict antiquities’ rescue or ransom? The cost of buying back stolen cultural property in contexts of political violence.” International Journal of Cultural Property, online first. [DOI]

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