The fight against smuggling of cultural goods in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Artifacts are constantly threatened by so many different actions, most notably looting, smuggling, and illicit trade. One of the major consequences of these illegal activities is the dissociation, meaning the loss of information associated with an object, such as origin, identification and location, without which the object loses its significance.

Because of this, it is important to mark and track heritage artifacts, ensuring the object’s identification, collection management and protection. Several actions have been adopted during the years to strengthen the protection of cultural property and cultural heritage, but they often lack effectiveness.

The AURORA project wants to fill this gap by demonstrating how chemical marking, miniaturized device, art deep-scan technique, cloud and blockchain based platforms can be combined to create a cost-effective, non-destructive, and non-invasive countermeasure against illegal activities while preserving artifacts. The technologies researched and implemented in AURORA will converge in a digital tool allowing relevant stakeholders to easily verify artwork authenticity and origin. In close collaboration with relevant cultural institutions, AURORA will showcase real setting applications to validate the non-invasiveness, low cost, long-term stability, confidentiality, and data security features of the proposed solutions. In parallel, AURORA will foster technological democratization among cultural institutions, by creating a knowledge bridge between technical competencies and cultural heritage professionals.

AURORA project was presented on the recent very important event organised by the Center Against Art Smuggling – CPKU is supported by the OSCE Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina on November 30, 2023, in the International Portrait Gallery Tuzla (Bosnia and Herzegovina). The event consisted of the opening of the exhibition and the panel discussion.

The exhibition “Missing Works” has so far been presented to the public in 2016 in the Art Gallery of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and in 2021 in the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Empty frames with reproductions are presented at the exhibition of works of art that have disappeared in the last four decades from public and private collections. The exhibition contain information about the content international conventions on the protection of cultural heritage to which Bosnia and Herzegovina is a signatory, the parliamentary questions sent by the state representative Mr. Saša Magazinović, the issue of security and management border with special reference to the smuggling of art and cultural goods, the destruction of archeological ones sites and the illegal trade of artifacts, including the thematic announcement of the National Preservation Commission monuments of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the use of metal detectors for the looting of archaeological sites, confiscation and looting, ICOM Red List and other topics.

Data on the missing works in Bosnia and Herzegovina can be found in the database of the Center Against Art Smuggling

A rich panel discussion consisted of presentations of different initiatives that included speeches by Dženan Jusufović president of CPKU; Siniša Šešum, director of UNESCO; Szabolcs Tuncsik – Senior Police Adviser OSCE Mission in BiH; Alemdina Karić, program manager International Republican Institute – IRI; Mirzah Fočo, executive officer Commission for the Preservation of National Monuments of Bosnia and Herzegovina; Aida Vežić, Secretary General Balkan Museum Network; Alma Leka, President of the International Council of Museums – ICOM Bosnia and Herzegovina; Vedran Alidžanović, Prosecutor of the Department for Corruption, Economic Crime and Tax Evasion of the Tuzla Canton Prosecutor’s Office.

From the presentations and the following discussion, the organizer has drawn conclusions which are available in the full report from the event on CPKU web site.

As the report is in Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian language we offer unofficial English translation below.

Conclusions and recommendations from panel discussion “The fight against smuggling of cultural goods in Bosnia and Herzegovina”

  1. Establishment of the state register of missing works of art in accordance with international standards;
  2. Formation of the Commission for the restitution of alienated cultural property from Bosnia and Herzegovina in accordance with international conventions;
  3. Adoption and application of the legislative framework regulating the list of art fund, as a key component of administrative bodies in public institutions and maintenance of professional inventory and control of collections – a regular inventory list is a key tool for protecting the art fund that institutions have at their disposal in the fight against illegal art trade;
  4. Establishing coordination and intensifying the exchange of information between the interested actors of the fight against the illegal trade of art in Bosnia and Herzegovina, countries of the region, member countries of the European Union, but also of those that are not, and the global information network on endangered cultural goods and works of art, which are the subject of illegal trade and smuggling, with the mediation of the Center Against Art Smuggling and the OSCE Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina;
  5. Organizing trainings and educations for members of the police force, holders of judicial functions, staff in museums, galleries, archives, libraries, institutes for the protection of cultural assets, to the ministries of culture in cooperation with the Center Against Art Smuggling and the OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina;
  6. Formation of a specialized police unit for art, as one of the conditions for success and efficiency repressive measures (exposing criminal networks) and increasing the level of information exchange between investigative bodies at different levels of their activity, and related to existing criminal reports on stolen art;
  7. Intensification of investigations based on criminal reports received by museums, galleries, private collectors, painters, private studios, associations, etc. in order to find the perpetrators and the stolen returned art and cultural goods to their legal owners;
  8. Harmonization of legislation in the field of museology and gallery art at different administrative -management levels (cantons, Brčko district, entities, state level) in terms of unifying the categorization of art and cultural goods;
  9. Harmonization of criminal legislation in Bosnia and Herzegovina for the purpose of easier investigation and management criminal proceedings against perpetrators of crimes related to theft and illegal trade cultural goods;
  10. Recommendation to the relevant ministries so that they can gain insight into the state of institutions in the area of culture, which own collections of art and cultural goods, in terms of inventory, physical and technical protection of facilities, personnel training, through the submission of regular reports;
  11. Launching the initiative on the adoption of regulations on the use of metal detectors modeled after the “Law on heritage” (Code du patrimoine) of the Republic of France, article L542-1, which states: “No one can use equipment that enables the detection of metal objects, for the purpose of researching monuments and objects that may be of interest to prehistory, history, art or archaeology, without previously receiving an administrative approval issued based on the applicant’s qualification as well as nature and research methods”.
  12. Launching an initiative towards the relevant ministries to supplement the list of court experts for the area of assessment of works of art and determination of authenticity and originality of works of art and cultural goods;
  13. Raising the awareness of civil society through special action programs (brochures, exhibitions, lectures, workshops, cooperation with the media…) through the affirmation and importance of cultural-historical and artistic preservation heritage of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
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