In a bold display of true Polish solidarity, archaeoblogger Paul Barford has joined with ancient coin collectors in criticizing U.S. State Department (DOS) actions in the cultural property arena. In a recent blogpost, Barford took the State Department to task for abandoning its role in the Hague plan to help Jewish heirs recover art looted by the Nazis. This is clearly an altruistic endorsement of collector rights since most of the looted art in question was confiscated from and would be repatriated to private collections. Of course the actions being criticized by coin collectors are related to a different UN fiasco, but the principle is the same. Inexplicably, Department of State is said to have based their withdrawal from the Hague effort partly on the fact that the U.S. team has no "culture ministry" to report to. Barford sees that as a reflection of U.S. attitudes in general about cultural property.
Based on a good many years of direct and personal observation, I sincerely doubt that any State Department action is a reflection of U.S. attitudes in general. But then, life is probably different in Poland than it is in the U.S. and Mr. Barford's total lack of understanding American attitudes and law should perhaps be forgiven. As for having a Ministry of Culture in the U.S., that is a novel idea. Perhaps he would also recommend a Parliament and perhaps a titular king or queen. In any case, the fact will remain that the U.S. State Department and the "U.S. Government" are horses of a different color—not unlike "London" and the "City of London". On that point there can be little argument from any quarter. What Barford failed to expose through his ubiquitous Google cyber searches is that there is already, in essence, a Ministry of Culture and a titular ruler over cultural property in Foggy Bottom. That became obvious in the "Black Swan" case where leaked State Department documents confirm a secret collusion between DOS and Spain against a publicly traded American company.
The autonomy of DOS is widely recognized in Washington, even within the court system. The Circuit Court in Baltimore ruled that an ACCG challenge of overreaching import restrictions imposed by Customs and DOS was not "judiciable". The court found merit in the collectors guild arguments, but ruled that it had insufficient power to judge the actions of DOS regarding those restrictions. This abdication of the court's authority and responsibility was subsequently upheld in the U.S. Court of Appeals. That case remains under review. In another helpful blog post, Mr. Barford highlights the crux of collector concerns about the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) conflation of "country of origin" with "find spot" as defined in the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act. The procedural approach outlined by CBP lacks scale and is not at all consistent with applicable law.