First they change the name… then the domain

Interesting signs of the times (and of the increasingly brand-named, officialized, and internetified Heritage World).  Just look at these two recent developments relating to the site of Auschwitz and ponder awhile:

1.)  In the summer of 2007, the World Heritage Committee approved official change of name of World Heritage Site from “The Auschwitz Concentration Camp” to “Auschwitz Birkenau German Nazi Concentration Camp (1940-1945)” upon the request of the Polish government, seeking to distance itself as much as possible in time and responsibility from that very unlovely heritage attraction on their soil.

2.)  And, now in January 2011, as if the clear marking of extraterritorial status for unpleasant heritage sites (and acts!) in the real world were not enough, a similar move has been taken in cyberspace:

From Agence France Press,  February 2,2011

Poland asks Nazi camp museums to drop .pl websites

(AFP) – 3 days ago

WARSAW — Poland’s culture minister said Tuesday he had asked museums at former Nazi death camps to drop their Polish .pl Internet suffix to help counter the false impression they were Polish-run.

The minister, Bogdan Zdrojewski, told Polish news agency PAP he had written to the directors of three museums in Poland asking them to use other suffixes for their websites, such as the more neutral, pan-European .eu.

The three memorial museums, run and largely financed by the Polish state, are Auschwitz-Birkenau (www.auschwitz.org.pl), Majdanek (www.majdanek.pl) and Stutthof (www.stutthof.pl).

“I’ve asked them to use the appropriate term systematically,” Zdrojewski said.

Warsaw keenly watches the global media for descriptions of such camps as “Polish” because it says the term — even if used simply as a geographical indicator — can give the impression that Poland bore responsibility for Nazi Germany’s World War II genocide…

For full article, click here.

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Do nation-states have the sovereign right to externalize unpleasant heritage and exclude it from their national internet domains?  At least they seem to have the means…

For Shame!

So we are reassured by the protectors of cultural heritage that Egypt’s antiquities are secure– pompously announced by a newly appointed minister of a brutal government that sends in violent thugs to injure and intimidate the protestors who will not bend to their will!

Shame on those who care most of all for antiquarian relics!  Bloody battles now rage around the Egyptian Museum. What about the people of Egypt?  Are they now more secure as well?

Flanked by special forces, antiquities chief Zahi Hawass speaks at Cairo's Egyptian Museum Monday. Photograph by Tara Todras-Whitehill, AP

From the NY Times 1 Feb 2011

Antiquities Chief Says Sites Are Largely Secure

by Kate Taylor

A vast majority of Egypt’s museums and archaeological sites are secure and have not been looted, Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s chief antiquities official, said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. He also rejected comparisons between the current situation in Egypt and scenes of chaos and discord that resulted in the destruction of artifacts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“People are asking me, ‘Do you think Egypt will be like Afghanistan?’ ” he said. “And I say, ‘No, Egyptians are different — they love me because I protect antiquities.’ ”

Mr. Hawass, who has never been shy about promoting his work, described two episodes of looting that he said took place Friday night.

At the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, thieves looking for gold broke 70 objects, including two sculptures of Tutankhamen, and took two skulls from a research lab before being stopped as they were leaving the museum. Mr. Hawass said that they had first been caught by civilians, who fought the thieves until soldiers arrived and detained them. He said that the damaged objects could all be restored.

In the second episode, he said, armed Bedouins looted a storage site on the Sinai Peninsula, where objects were being stored for a future museum, and took six boxes. But Mr. Hawass said that after he made statements on television and radio demanding the objects’ return and warning the thieves that they would not be able to sell them, 288 objects were left in the street on Tuesday morning and recovered by the police. He said he would not know until a review was completed how many objects in all had been taken.

In Saqqara, site of the oldest pyramid in Egypt and a number of important tombs, padlocks on the tombs were broken but nothing was taken, Mr. Hawass said. He said that other sites, including the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens, the pyramids of Giza, and all of Egypt’s other museums were safe, and credited not only the army but also average Egyptians, who he said had helped guards protect cultural sites.

“They stood with sticks” along with guards and antiquities inspectors, he said. “They stood in front of outlaws, and they stopped any theft.”

As Egypt’s chief archaeologist, Mr. Hawass has made the return of Egypt’s cultural patrimony his priority. He has called on Germany, for instance, to return the bust of Nefertiti that is in the Neues Museum in Berlin, and on Britain to return the Rosetta Stone.

Mr. Hawass, whose previous title was chairman of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, under the umbrella of the Ministry of Culture, was promoted on Monday to a position in the cabinet of President Hosni Mubarak as minister of antiquities. He said that the government had responded to protesters’ demands and that now people should be patient.

“They should give us the opportunity to change things, and if nothing happens they can march again,” he said. “But you can’t bring in a new president now, in this time. We need Mubarak to stay and make the transition.”

*   *   *

These are outrageous, self-justifying assertions, especially in light of the Mubarak government’s brutal action in Tianamen-Tahrir Square.  It makes one wonders if the reassuring noises coming from Hawass’s fan website are equally cynical disinformation…


How’s the Museum Security Plan Coming Along?

Jordan Archaeological Museum, Amman

From the Washington Post 1 February 2011

Jordan’s king fires Cabinet amid protests

by Jamal Halaby

Associated Press

AMMAN, Jordan — Jordan’s King Abdullah II fired his government Tuesday in the wake of street protests and asked an ex-prime minister to form a new Cabinet, ordering him to launch immediate political reforms.

The dismissal follows several large protests across Jordan- inspired by similar demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt – calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Samir Rifai, who is blamed for a rise in fuel and food prices and slowed political reforms.

A Royal Palace statement said Abdullah accepted Rifai’s resignation tendered earlier Tuesday.

The king named Marouf al-Bakhit as his prime minister-designate, instructing him to “undertake quick and tangible steps for real political reforms, which reflect our vision for comprehensive modernization and development in Jordan,” the palace statement said.

[…]

The king also stressed that economic reform was a “necessity to provide a better life for our people, but we won’t be able to attain that without real political reforms, which must increase popular participation in the decision-making.”

He asked al-Bakhit for a “comprehensive assessment … to correct the mistakes of the past.” He did not elaborate. The statement said Abdullah also demanded an “immediate revision” of laws governing politics and public freedoms.

For full story, click here.

The Kiss of Death


Dr. Zahi Hawass, new Egyptian Minister of State for Antiquities

Dr. Zahi Hawass, the bombastic, clownish pseudo-archaeologist who has tyrannized, bullied, and manipulated Egyptologists and Egyptian villagers alike for years now, today officially accepted President Hosni Mubarak’s appointment as Minister of State for Antiquities in the desperate, ghost government that has just been formed.

Hawass has thrown in his lot completely with the dying order.  Antiquities are the least of Egypt’s problems right now– but all those who are concerned with them have another major reason to wonder what the future will bring…

Alerted by Nigel Hetherington

From the AP   January 31, 2011

Egypt’s President Announces New Government

by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak swore in a new Cabinet on Monday, replacing one dissolved as a concession to unprecedented anti-government protests.

In the most significant change, the interior minister — who heads internal security forces — was replaced. A retired police general, Mahmoud Wagdi, was named to replace Habib el-Adly, who is widely despised by protesters for brutality shown by security forces.

Still, the new Cabinet is unlikely to satisfy the tens of thousands of protesters who have taken to the streets in cities across Egypt the past week demanding the ouster of Mubarak and his entire regime. When Mubarak announced the dissolving of the previous government late Friday and named his intelligence chief Omar Suleiman as his vice president, protesters on the streets rejected the move as an attempt by Mubarak, Egypt’s authoritarian ruler of nearly 30 years, to cling to power.

The new line-up of Cabinet ministers announced on state television included stalwarts of Mubarak’s regime but purged several of the prominent businessmen who held economic posts and have engineered the country’s economic liberalization policies the past decades. Many Egyptians resented the influence of millionaire politician-moguls, who were close allies of the president’s son, Gamal Mubarak, long thought to be the heir apparent.

In the new Cabinet, Mubarak retained his long-serving defense minister, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, and Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit.

The longest-serving Cabinet minister, Culture Minister Farouq Hosni, was replaced by Gaber Asfour, a widely respected literary figure.

Egypt’s most famous archaeologist, Zahi Hawass, was named state minister for antiquities, a new post.

Newly sworn-in Mubarak government listens to the President as demonstrators mass in Tahrir Square, 1 Feb. 2011. Egyptian TV


Click image to watch clip

Sensing Weakness?

It’s interesting to see how dependent heritage “political correctness” is on the flow of politics.

Watching events unfold in Egypt– and maybe approach the tipping point– it’s instructive how the strident, uncompromising demands of a Mubarak functionary are now met with an uncompromising “no”…

From The Independent  January 26, 2011

Germany refuses to return bust to Egypt

By Tony Paterson in Berlin

A diplomatic row between Germany and Egypt over rights to the 3,400-year-old bust of the fabled Queen Nefertiti reopened yesterday when Berlin flatly refused to accept an official request from Cairo to return the priceless artefact to the banks of the Nile.

Nefertiti Bust in the Ägyptisches Museum Berlin. Photo: Magnus Manske

The world-renowned bust has been on public display in Berlin since 1923 following its discovery by the German archaeologist Ludwig Borchardt at Amarna in 1912. It rates as one of the capital’s top tourist attractions and is seen by some 500,000 visitors a year.

Egypt, which argues that Germany obtained the bust illegally and by deceit, has been lobbying for Nefertiti’s return for more than half a century. But on Monday, Zahi Hawass, the head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, declared that an “official request” had been sent to Berlin demanding the bust be handed back.

“We ask that this unique treasure be returned to the possession of its rightful owners, the Egyptian people,” the statement said.

Mr Hawass said the demand had received the full backing of the Egyptian Prime Minister and Culture Minister and was submitted to both the German government and the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which runs Berlin’s Neues Museum, where Nefertiti is on permanent display.

But Germany dismissed Egypt’s demands yesterday. “This is not an official request,” a foreign ministry spokesman insisted. “An official request is from one government to another,” he added. He said Germany, which argues that the bust is too fragile even to be loaned to Egypt, would continue to reject demands for Nefertiti’s return.

Tax Cuts for the Rich – Budget Cuts for the Past

The budget targeting of historic preservation and heritage programs (of all kinds) is based on an assumption that serious public reflection on the past is just a disposable luxury.  Sure there is waste, elitism, racism, chauvinism, and class favoritism in some areas of the historic preservation movement.  And sure we need to be smart and effective how we allocate and spend public funds.

Yet among the most promising trends in recent years is the growing attention to community-based heritage activities, increasing inclusiveness in the decisions about who or what gets included in “official” commemoration, and the widening awareness that cultural identity– and even more important cultural co-existence– is absolutely essential, especially in hard times.

A bugetarily microscopic initiative like the Preserve America program has been branded by Republicans as wasteful (along with other useless things like Public Broadcasting and the voluntary US contributions to UN activities).  More troubling still is the fact that President Obama has apparently agreed about the disposability of heritage programs of all kinds.

So what do we have left of our national memories beyond the factless history-babble of Glenn Beck and the wildly mythic notions of the Tea Party Movement?  The official neglect of our collective memories has a tremendous cost.

 

History at no cost to the taxpayer. Does it look intelligent to you? Photo from Steve M. blog/Fox News

 

The cuts will deepen our national historical dementia by increasing our inability to distinguish between fact-based reflection and myth-based assertions.  No less damaging, the continuing privatization of heritage “attractions” as venues for “edu-tainment” will further trivialize the multimedia costume drama that we increasingly confuse with the past.

And don’t assume that this is just an American problem:  outsourcing of conservation responsibilities for historic districts and sites to retail, residential, and tourism developers is a worldwide phenomenon.  We have to carefully consider our priorities, examine the impacts of heritage on society, and be aware of the dangers of public amnesia.

From http://www.governing.com   January 14, 2011

Feds Threaten Major Cuts to Historic Preservation Grants

Posted By Ryan Holeywell

President Obama and the GOP don’t tend to agree on much these days. But they’ve found common ground in one unusual place: Both want to cut millions of dollars in historic preservation grants.

This week, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex.), a GOP deputy whip and member of the Republican Study Committee’s steering committee, introduced a bill that would cut $150 billion over five years through nearly 50 types of spending reductions across the board.

Some of the cuts are politically charged, like rescinding voluntary payments to the United Nations and eliminating the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Others are common-sense proposals taken from the president’s fiscal commission, such as requiring the sale of excess federal property and reducing federal travel costs.

A little-noticed proposal was a plan to eliminate two programs that fund historic preservation grants: Save America’s Treasures and Preserve America.

According to a House-issued breakdown of Brady’s proposal:

This amendment would eliminate funding for the Save America’s Treasures and Preserve America Program, as called for by the President who said both programs are duplicative and underperforming.

The Preserve America Grant Program was established in 2003 (as) a grant program within (the Department of the Interior) to provide ‘planning funding to support preservation efforts through heritage tourism, education, and historic preservation planning.’

The Save America’s Treasures Program in Department of Interior awards grants to preserve historically significant properties. This account is also heavily earmarked. $4.6 million is appropriated for Preserve in FY 2010 and $25 million is appropriated for Save. The Department of the Interior oversees multiple, overlapping historic preservation programs. Additionally, every federal agency is required to maintain a historic preservation program and must appoint a historic preservation officer and comply with the National Historic Preservation Act. In addition, there are numerous other federal grant programs and tax provisions aimed at historic preservation.

But Patrick J. Lally, director of congressional affairs for The National Trust for Historic Preservation, said Brady is downplaying the grants’ significance. Save America’s Treasures is the only federal grant dedicated exclusively to physical restoration of nationally significant sites, and it represents a significant portion of all federal funding for historic preservation.

The historic preservation fund, which is part of the Department of Interior, is usually funded at about $75 million to $78 million, and Save America’s Treasures usually makes up about $25 million to $30 million of that total. Eliminating it would be a huge blow to federal preservation efforts, Lally tells FedWatch. “It’s not like when lawmakers propose elimination of these funds they go to another account within the historic preservation fund,” Lally says. “They go away.”

Save America’s Treasures has provided funding to restore the Montgomery bus where Rosa Parks made her stand, the workshop where Thomas Edison created his inventions and the cottage to which President Lincoln retreated during hot Washington summers, among other projects. Since its 1998 launch, it has provided nearly $294 million to more than 1,100 preservation projects.

While Save America’s Treasures focuses on physical work, Preserve America grants provide funding for things like marketing, research and digitizing records — ancillary work that helps to promote “heritage tourism” to cultural and natural sites. For example, Honolulu was awarded $150,000 to develop programs to showcase its Chinatown, and Oxford, Miss. received $75,000 to fund exhibits about the life of Supreme Court Justice L.Q.C. Lamar in his historic home. Preserve America has provided more than $17 million in grants to more than 225 projects.

This time, the programs are being targeted by a House Republican. But a year ago, it was President Obama who proposed cutting the programs in his 2010-2011 budget. White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer wrote on the White House blog that they “lack rigorous performance metrics and evaluation efforts so the benefits are unclear.”

That decision was especially unusual, given that the White House has previously been a supporter of the programs. In March 2009, Obama signed legislation that permanently authorized them, and in December of that year, First Lady Michelle Obama touted Save America’s Treasures as a way to “empower communities all over the country to rescue and restore this priceless heritage.”

Lally says he believes Obama’s proposal to cut the programs last year was an oversight. Congress ultimately preserved funding for the programs, largely due to the fact that Save America’s Treasures has a record of creating jobs (16,000 since its inception), Lally says. The White House’s budget will be released next month, and preservations are anxiously waiting to see whether it will against target the two programs, like Brady has already done. And given that deficit reduction has been the theme repeated ad nauseum by the new House Republican leadership, the future of the programs could be in jeopardy.

The fact that the two programs are fighting for their survival is especially ironic, considering the $29.6 allotted to them is a pittance of the overall federal budget. Nancy Schamu, executive director of the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers, tells FedWatch she doesn’t know why preservation funding is being targeted, especially since it’s basically “decimal dust” in the grand scheme of things.

“That’s something you’ll have to ask the bill drafters,” she says.

Counting Down to 100 Years of “Scientific Study”

Artifacts from Machu Picchu on display at Yale’s Peabody Museum (AP photo, 2006)

From NY Times Arts Beat Blog November 3, 2010

Peru Seeks Obama’s Help in Dispute With Yale

By Randy Kennedy

Escalating a war of words between his government and Yale University, President Alan García of Peru has made a formal request for President Obama’s intervention in a long-running dispute over the ownership of a large group of artifacts excavated in 1912 at Machu Picchu by a Yale explorer.

Peru has argued that the items were only lent to the university and should have been returned long ago. Yale has contended that it returned all borrowed objects in the 1920s, retaining only those to which it had full title. In 2007 the sides reached a tentative agreement that would have set up a long-term collaboration and granted title of the disputed antiquities to Peru while allowing a certain number, including the piece above, to remain at Yale for study and display. But that deal fell apart in 2008, and Peru filed a civil suit in federal court in Connecticut.

Last month Peru said it was also prepared to pursue criminal charges against Yale if the items were not returned. In his letter to the White House on Tuesday Mr. García said it was only “just and necessary” for President Obama to step in. In a statement after the threat of criminal sanctions, Yale said that while it respected “Peru’s interests in archaeological material from Machu Picchu,” it also owed “a duty to academic and cultural institutions everywhere to recognize their important contributions to the study and understanding of all the world’s cultures.”

*   *   *

Do the following projects really justify the right of Yale University to keep physical possession of the Machu Picchu finds?

(From a Yale University Press Release)

“Currently underway at Yale are a number of important scholarly studies of the Machu Picchu materials that promise to reveal more about Inca life and culture. Many of these studies involve newly developed scientific techniques and equipment, including the following:

  • A study of the metals from Machu Picchu using a scanning electron microprobe.
  • A study of the production patterns of Machu Picchu pottery using instrumental neutron activations analysis, funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation.
  • A definitive monograph on the ceramics from the Inca burials at Machu Picchu, which will appear in Yale University Publications in Anthropology
  • A study of the DNA of the human bones in the collection that will shed light on the origins of the population at Machu Picchu as well as the biological relationships among the individuals who were buried there.
  • A study of the thoracic skeletal morphology of Machu Picchu and high-altitude hypoxia in Andean prehistory.
  • A study of the servant class of Machu Picchu, with a focus on their life stories and population dynamics, through an isotope study of human teeth.

“Keeping a portion of the study collections at the Yale Peabody Museum will ensure the continuation of this and similar research, and the applications of new analytical techniques to the collection as these are developed.”

 Um… does that mean, like, forever???