Saturday, 9 August 2008

Burns: "I wear this title of Philhellene rather proudly"

Some members of the coin-collecting community have been speaking out about the restrictions on archaeological material from Cyprus. Part of their lack of concern for cultural heritage has led to a FOIA request relating to the decision to restrict the import of archaeological material from Cyprus.

What are the real motives of the coin-collecting and coin-selling organisations behind this FOIA request?

Peter Tompa has now turned his attention to US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns (a former US Ambassador to Greece). Tompa asks the question:
Did then Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns order the controversial decision to impose import restrictions on coins of Cypriot type as a "thank you" to a coalition of Greek and Greek Cypriot lobbying groups called "the National Coordinated Effort of Hellenes" or "CEH" which had given him an award?

Burns has pleased to receive the award (quoted in States News Service, May 16, 2007):

I wear this title of Philhellene rather proudly. You don't spend four years in Greece, as my wife and three daughters and I did, and not come back feeling committed to Greek thought, to the Greek way of life, to Greece itself in my case. My wife and I have lived in West Africa, we've lived in Egypt, we've lived in Israel, we've lived in France, we've lived in Belgium, we've lived in Greece. We have double the number of friends in Greece than all the other countries combined. [Laughter]. On my name day, December 6th, Nicholas, I still get 10 to 15 phone calls, e-mails from friends in Athens, in Salonika, in Crete, and elsewhere. So we love Greece in our family. We're personally committed to the country, to the relationship. My daughters always are pestering me, when are we going back to Greece?

Tompa appears to be questioning the integrity of Burns. He continues:

Hopefully, a pending FOIA lawsuit will shed further light on the issue whether our own State Department sold out American coin collectors and its own CPAC-- and all because an award given to Undersecretary Burns. If so, the price for betrayal of the interests of American coin collectors and likely the State Department's own CPAC was quite low indeed.

This is emotive talk ("sold out", "price of betrayal") from Tompa. Is he suggesting that organisations that "honour" individuals have ulterior motives? What about organisations that reward congressmen for supporting "collector rights" or intervening "in issues of importance to ancient coin collectors"? Or is that different?


Cultural Property Observer said...

Actually, giving awards to Congressmen is different. They are legislators and none have been in the chain of decision making on import restrictions like Burns. Burns can wear the title of Philhellene as proudly as he wants, but that should not impact his own decision making or that of his subordinates. To the extent it did,the decision to impose import restrictions on coins of Cypriot type was arbitrary and capricious.

If State has nothing to hide, why don't they just release the documents that have been requested?


Peter Tompa

Jim said...

Yes, to your last question, it is different, substantially different. As someone who studied International Relations when I attended university, I can tell you that the loyalty of an embassy or State Dept employee who works for the U.S. govt is to the U.S. both 1st and above all other countries. For a U.S. diplomat to be rewarded by a foreign country for going against the interests of it's own citizens could be grounds for both dismissal and jail time. It is foreign influence over a U.S. diplomat against the wishes and interests of the citizenry he/she is meant to serve, protect and defend.
A U.S. State Dept employee has taken an oath to protect and defend the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic and to defend U.S. interests at home and abroad. Nicholas Burns may have violated his oath if he gave favored treatment to foreign based Greek and Cypriot organizations over U.S. citizens.
By contrast, for a group like the ACCG (which is based in the U.S.) to thank a U.S. Congressman is thanks coming from a constituent group whose members are of the same country. This is normal in the U.S. and is consistent with U.S. Constitutional norms. U.S. Congressman have taken an oath much like the State Dept employees and it is their Constitutional duty, their *JOB*, to represent the citizens of the Congressional District and/or State in which they reside. The congressmen from Wisconsin all represent congressional districts that have coin clubs, coin dealers and in 2 of them, coin & stamp publishing & paraphernalia businesses. When those congressmen helped the ACCG, they were serving their constituents and that is their job. - Jim McGarigle

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