Antiquities OPEC?

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Greece and Italy have taken a step towards joint action in the smuggle struggle — the fight to regain illegally exported antiquities. (via) Greek Minister of Culture Mihalis Liapis was in Rome this week to meet with his Italian counterpart Sandro Bondi to discuss ways to coordinate efforts for the return of looted work.

For now it’s not clear what their joint ventures will amount to. Somewhat garbled press reports mention technical cooperation between Greek and Italian law enforcement. But as more “source nations” reach out to one another to cooperate on this issue, Derek Fincham, on his Illicit Cultural Property blog, is wondering about the eventual possibility of what he calls “an antiquities OPEC”. I’m not sure the analogy holds — OPEC is powerful because it sits on top of a natural resource that, at the end of the day, the world requires. Antiquities source nations have…..antiquities.

But as I read Fincham’s post this morning I was reminded that last fall, when I was working on a lengthy Time story about the fight over antiquities, Zahi Hawass, the head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities and one of the most visible figures in this fight, mentioned in an e-mail that he hoped to organize an international meeting of source nations this year. But I haven’t seen any further news on that idea.

What is clear is that in the aftermath of the success that the previous Italian Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli had in his campaign to bring ancient objects back to Italy, Greece has been stepping up its own efforts. Earlier this month the Greek government announced that the important American collector Shelby White would be returning two disputed objects from her collection. (Which the Greek Culture Ministry specified that she had acquired “in good faith”.) In January White, a major benefactor of the Metropolitan Museum in New York, also returned ten objects to Italy.

And of course, when the New Acropolis Museum in Athens finally has its official opening later this year, Greece will ramp up its campaign for the return of the Elgin Marbles from Britain. I wonder if there’s any way for Italy to cooperate with that?