OPEC is the organization of oil-producing countries which regulates their production, price, etc. A number of people have suggested that perhaps a similar movement should be adopted among nations of origin for antiquities loans, repatriations, and perhaps even licit sales. It would seem to be a terrific strategy for these nations to combine their efforts, so long as they can agree upon similar strategies. A few items in the news and among other blogs point to the emergence of such a collaboration.
First, Italy and Greece have continued their cooperation. The Greek Minister of Culture, Mihalis Liapis and Sandro Bondi, the Italian Minister for Culture have signed a memorandum of cooperation on cultural issues. As part of the agreement, the Nostoi exhibition will travel to the New Acropolis Museum in Athens in September, and there will likely be more pressure on institutions and private collectors to return objects, as David Gill recently noted with the news that Shelby White will return objects to Greece.This news comes as Egypt continued its recent efforts and signed yet another agreement, this time with Ecuador. Egypt has already signed agreements with Italy, Cyprus, Denmark, Cuba, Kazakhstan, Jordan, Peru and Switzerland according to the Egyptian weekly Al-Ahram.
I think we can take a couple of lessons from these efforts. First, it is another indication that UNESCO has had a difficult time building consensus, and the spread of these bilateral agreements is a sign the UNESCO Convention itself does very little if a signatory does not want to give much teeth to its accession.
Second, these repatriations and cooperation may be a very good thing, however the real test of these efforts remains how well sites are protected, and whether there remains a workable heritage management policy in these nations. Recent news out of Greece suggests they are not. It seems last month the Greek parliament has taken a step last month to allow divers to access the entirety of the Greek coastline. This would be very good for tourism, but how are the objects these divers find going to be managed or educated? How will sites be affected?
Pictured here of course is the Bronze Statue of a Victorious Youth, a statue found by chance in the Adriatic in the 1960s. How many more of these objects will be uncovered if the Greek coast is opened up to divers? I know very little about how the Greek waters are currently protected, but it would seem to me to be a poor policy which only criticizes foreign institutions and buyers while not properly protecting domestic objects and sites before they are exported.
David Gill has kindly noted in the comments, and on his blog that the report I noted above is out-of-date and most likely inaccurate. It seems Greece is not, of course, thinking about opening its coast to amateur underwater salvors. However, I think the underlying question I raised is still valid in Greece and elsewhere: what can and should be done about underwater sites and wrecks