Finding the happy medium in Bulgaria's new law

Bulgaria’s Cultural Heritage Act, meant to finally replace a four-decades-old law, proved to be a compromise that satisfied no one – art collectors said it was too restrictive and many archaeologists said it was too lax.

Its future is now in limbo after Constitutional Court judges ruled that a number of provisions in the law were unconstitutional and had to be amended.

Few would argue that Bulgaria needed a new legislative framework regulating the issue, given the past two decades of large-scale illegal treasure hunting. Strong opposition to some of the law’s provisions has caused long delays to the legislative process.

The law was proposed in 2006 and was sponsored by a group of MPs spearheaded by Nina Chilova, a former culture and tourism minister, and Ognyan Gerdjikov, a former speaker of Parliament. The bill was drafted, the MPs said, using recommendations made by leading luminaries in the archaeological field of study.

From the onset, the bill was criticised as chaotic, blurry and with provisions that were mutually contradictory. At the very first public discussion of the bill, in April 2006, archaeologists and museum directors said that it lacked any coherent direction, did not have clear-cut legal definitions and raised more new questions than it answered.

One of the bill’s provisions that most stirred controversy was that holders of any artwork or antiques should prove their ownership. This provision, central to the law’s intention to regulate the balance between the state’s goal of preserving Bulgaria’s cultural heritage and the private interests of art collectors, would become the defining battleground between the law’s supporters and its detractors.  Read more.

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