PRESS RELEASE - -
June 12, 2014
Walk of Truth at International Conference “Cultural Heritage Security- SIGArt” in Croatia WoT pioneers in its efforts to combat art trafficking The international NGO for the protection of cultural heritage, Walk of Truth (WoT) participated in the International Conference Cultural Heritage Security- SIGArt, held in Croatia on May 26-27, 2014. WoT Founder, Tasoula Hadjitofi, presented "An integrated model to combat international art trafficking" to a diverse audience of eminent experts dealing with the protection of cultural heritage, such as UNESCO, ICOMOS and ICOM, delegates from museums and galleries, representatives of the ministries of Culture and ministries of the Interior, Disaster Preparedness services and other. International experts who spoke at the conference included Aparna Tandon, Project Specialist, International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM), Italy; Dr. Dubravka JembrihSimbürger, Project co-leader at the Institute of Science and Technology in Art, Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, Austria; Daniel Vega, Director of Art Services at Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain; Emile Broersma, Director of Safety and Security at Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, Netherlands; Vernon Rapley, Head of Security and Visitor Services at Victoria & Albert Museum, UK and Lazar Shumanov, International Committee on Risk Preparedness (ICORP), Macedonia. The Conference, which focused on safeguarding our cultural heritage, presented modern methods and techniques for the prevention of cultural heritage destruction. It also illustrated security aspects of museum exhibitions and highlighted the protection of sacred sites and archaeological monuments through a series of presentations from European experiences. Hadjitofi gave a personal account of the meaning of cultural heritage and the profound impact her occupied ghost town of Famagusta in Cyprus has had on her. She also spoke about her experience in the repatriation of stolen artifacts from the occupied Cyprus, when in 1987, as the Honorary Consul of Cyprus in the Netherlands, she was offered by art dealers to buy stolen artifacts from Cyprus. This incident inspired her to initiate a research on art trafficking that led to a 27+ year struggle of tracking down leads from dealers, detectives and lawyers, to recover the stolen cultural and religious heritage of her motherland. Through this initiative, she was hailed as “Icon Hunter” as she instigated and coordinated the 1997 “Munich Case,” one of the largest art trafficking sting operations in European history. This resulted to the confiscation of over $60 million' worth of
looted artifacts from Cyprus and around the world. To date, part of the artifacts remain in the custody of the Bavarian Police and are entrapped in legal procedures, while last September, around 173 artifacts returned to Cyprus. Hadjitofi’s presentation stemmed from her 30-year experience in the protection of cultural heritage, as well as a recent Round-Table discussion (Art Trafficking and Restitution) organized by WoT. The outcome of the Round-Table was an integrated “Model to combat international art trafficking.” The Model, which was put under the microscope by a group of world experts- lawyers, academics, and officials from Interpol and Europol- features examples of illicit art trafficking from Afghanistan and Cyprus. The need for cooperation among different parties involved, identifying the weaknesses in the current strategy and methods used for combating art trafficking, was highlighted at the Croatia Conference. Hadjitofi addressed the aforesaid issue, using real examples from Cyprus, The Netherlands and Germany, underlying the need for the development of an integrated generic model to combat art trafficking. She explained that the illicit art trafficking of cultural, religious and artistic goods is the result of national and international conflicts and greed. “This is one of the world’s biggest organized criminal activities, linked to other organized crimes such as fraud, drugs and arms, and yet not so well known,” she pointed out. “In recent years, a great deal of progress has been made and many good initiatives by private and public parties have been implemented, however, there is still a great deal of room for improvement.” The Model will seek cooperation of all key players involved in the destruction chain of cultural heritage: the police, the army, Customs Authorities, art dealers, lawyers, academics, government institutions, NGOs, etc. Hadjitofi emphasized the need to engage the public in the protection of cultural heritage as this gives everyone equal responsibility to protect our past. “This can be a healing mechanism in areas of conflict,” she explained, adding that “culture and cultural heritage is construed as the responsibility of the elite and experts.” She added that “the public will only be engaged in this struggle once we acknowledge the value it has to all of us and not just to the ones who hold the tile of deeds or the experts and academics.” Hadjitofi also aluded to the looting which Croatia endured through the conflict with former Yugoslavia, as well as the loss of its cultural heritage from Italy during WWII. She was consequently asked for her advice on the subject of looting as well as to share the WoT network.
Following Hadjitofi’s presentation, the audience was eager to find out more. Members of the museums and government officials asked for consultation on ways to combat art trafficking, based on the Model formulated by WoT. “The time has come to look at the issue of the ownership of cultural heritage with a new view which embraces the emotional value it can have to different ethnic and religious groups and not just to the one holding the title of deeds,” she said.
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