Illicit Trafficking in Cultural Goods

The Forum, also celebrating the 20th anniversary of the first Forum organised in Gdańsk in 2003, gathered around 100 participants from the Baltic Sea states to discuss and debate “Heritage & Crises”. It was organised jointly by the National Institute of Cultural Heritage of Poland and the National Maritime Museum in Gdańsk, in collaboration with the BRHC.

During the Baltic Region Heritage Committee meeting held in connection with the Forum, three new working groups of the BRHC were established: Climate Change, Illicit traffic of cultural goods, and Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe. These groups reflect the current challenges in safeguarding. These Working Groups bring together civil servants and experts to jointly tackle practical questions related to and take concrete actions in safeguarding heritage around the Baltic Sea.

All CBSS member states have ratified the 1970 UNESCO Convention and some of us are also bound by the European Commission’s regulations regarding the export, import and return of cultural goods. Due to the Schengen zone’s open borders the protection of cultural property in Europe is possible only with strong regional cooperation.  In connection with the recent initiative in the spring of 2023 between Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to strengthen mutual cooperation, share practical experiences with each other and test new strategies to combat the illicit traficing of cultural goods, we propose to expand the circle of cooperation and establish a new platform for this purpose.

The need for such a working group and the purpose of the working group stems from the nature of the topic – it is a cross-border field. The main goal of the working group could be to create a network of experts to promote practical cooperation. Practical tasks such as workshops, seminars and the creation of operational communication channels could be just one of the task of this working group. For example, the processes of restitution, provenance research, legislation nuances, identification of stolen objects, preventing the spread of black archeology are just some of the listed topics that urgently need joint discussion and action.