Bulgaria, Italy Sign Agreement to Crack Down on Treasure Hunting, Illegal Trafficking of Antiques
Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture and Italy’s Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism have signed a memorandum providing for joint efforts against treasure hunting, theft of cultural heritage artifacts and illegal trafficking of antiques.
The document inked by Bulgarian Minister of Culture Vezhdi Rashidov and Italian Minister of Cultural Heritage and Tourism Dario Franceschini in Sofia also provides for the return of seized archaeological artifacts and antiques that have been smuggled abroad.
“Let’s not forget that Bulgaria is an outer border of the European Union. It is utmost importance for both Bulgaria and Italy to be able to cooperate for the preservation of our cultural heritage,” Bulgaria’s Culture Minister Rashidov has said, as quoted by the press service of the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture.
Other provisions of the signed document also include the exchange of information on the trafficking of cultural items, and the opportunity for the training of Bulgarian police and customs officers by the Italian Carabinieri, i.e. Italy’s national police.
Rashidov and Franceschini have condemned the ongoing destruction of cultural heritage in the ancient cities in Syria and Iraq caused by the Islamic State, and have declared support for the efforts of the UN, UNESCO, and the European Union to find a way for the rescue of the archaeological riches of Mesopotamia.
“Together with the other culture ministers in the European Union we should make a decisions to “digitize” all cultural monuments in war zones in order to preserve them at least electronically for the future generations because many of these sites are being irreparably destroyed,” argues Bulgaria’s Minister of Culture.
During his meeting with Bulgaria’s Minister of Tourism Nikolina Angelkova, the Italian Minister Franceschini has said the two countries can organize joint tours for the rising number of tourists from China and India who are visiting Europe.
“Instead of going to a single European country, they decide to visit more countries, that is, tourism on the European level. In the field of cultural and historical tourism Bulgaria and Italy have a lot to offer,” Franceschini is quoted as saying.
During Franceschini’s visit, Sofia Mayor Yordanka Fandakova has revealed that a total of 37,000 Italian tourists visited the Bulgarian capital in 2014, which is about a third of all Italians who traveled to Bulgaria last year.
Treasure hunting and illegal trafficking of antiques have been rampant in Bulgaria after the collapse of the communism regime in 1989 (and allegedly before that). Estimates vary but some consider this the second most profitable activity for the Bulgarian mafia after drug trafficking. One recent estimate suggests its annual turnover amounts to BGN 500 million (app. EUR 260 million), and estimates of the number of those involved range from about 5 000 to 200 000 – 300 000, the vast majority of whom are impoverished low-level diggers.