Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Who’s innovating in the political economy of cultural property?

The latest political and economic developments for cultural property may seem obvious. The rising trend in repatriation of antiquities from museums in the United States and Europe to “source nations” may seem like the cutting edge in politics, and emergence of China as a major force in the international art market may seem like the latest in economics. But on closer examination emerging nations may be the source of real innovation in the political economy of cultural property. Namely, how are nations actively exploiting cultural property to political and economic advantage?
Iran may prove a better example for innovative politics through cultural property. Over the past week, the Iranian Cultural Heritage, Handicraft and Tourism Organisation (ICHHTO) was scrutinized for domestic policy on "protection" of archaeological sites. The Persian Daily Hamshahri reported that, “ICHHTO has recently been involved in an illegal excavation and looting of Iranian antiquities.” Apparently, the ICHHTO has conducted “excavations” that have destroyed the possibility of archaeological research. The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies (CIAS) in London asserted, “The evidence in hand confirms a bitter reality for the Iranian nation, that the sole purpose of ICHHTO’s creation by the Islamic Republic was the destruction of pre-Islamic Iranian heritage under the guise of protection.”
Egypt may prove a better example for innovative economics through cultural property. Adel Abdel Sattar, the secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, reportedly indicated the potential for a private tourism firm to manage monuments and historic sites in the nation. The cultural property under consideration includes the pyramids in Giza, the Sphinx, the Abu Simbel Temple, and the temples of Luxor. Apparently, Qatar has an interest in exploiting the historic sites for a period of five years and Egypt would reportedly realize an estimated $200 billion. Such a deal raises a number of questions, starting with, “How much control, if any, would Egypt retain in determining what happens to the cultural property during the five years?”
Both situations require further research to assess the current and future effects on the cultural property in question. Both instances, however, illustrate the potential range of innovative practices. The symbolic value of antiquities to identity and the financial value of monuments to tourism create opportunities for exploitation in politics and economics beyond those fostered by international conventions and markets.
What’s next?

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