“In 2019, cultural heritage was once again in the spotlights”

Enforcement director Ruud Boudewijn about the fight against the illegal international trade in objects with a high cultural and historical value.

In the service of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, Dutch Customs monitors compliance with cultural heritage legislation. Enforcement director Ruud Boudewijn is a specialist in this field. “We focus more and more on objects d’art and antiquities that enter the EU.”

“One task of Customs is to combat the EU cross-border illegal trade in objects with a high cultural and historical value”, enforcement director Ruud Boudewijn begins. “It concerns objects d’art and antiquities that fall under cultural heritage legislation or under sanctions measures aimed at cultural property from conflict areas. Examples include archaeological artefacts from Syria or Iraq. If we find objects like that, we check the required import or export permits. We do this on the instruction of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and in close collaboration with colleagues from the Information and Heritage Inspectorate. For a long time, the emphasis was on monitoring exports, in other words, on preserving the cultural heritage of the Netherlands. These days, we focus more on shipments that enter our country and this trend will continue in the next few years. The reason for this is that soon, the new EU Regulation 2019/880 will come into force, encouraging member states to pay more attention to the import of cultural property from outside the Union.”

“Cultural heritage is a theme that hits the headlines big-time every now and then. The same happened in 2019. Politicians in The Hague and the national press were embroiled in a discussion following the New York auction of a charcoal drawing by Rubens, from the state of Princess Juliana. So wasn’t this sketch state property? Shouldn’t a significant work of art like that have been offered for sale to Dutch museums first? For the House of Representatives, this case was reason enough to order an investigation into the protection of cultural heritage in our country. A special committee, headed by former minister Pechtold, came to the conclusion that there is room for improvement when it comes to, for instance, the management of our national art collection. Another conclusion was that the collaboration between the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, the Information and Heritage Inspectorate and Customs is very good.”

“For example, the Inspectorate and our agency effectively join up at the annual TEFAF trade fair in Maastricht. In a short period of time, billions of Euros worth of art and antiques cross our border, some of which will be traded and taken across the globe. Naturally, this entire process must be managed well and we do that together. Customs has a dedicated customer manager at the TEFAF, for instance. And the obligatory documents stream is set up well: our Central Import and Export Office provides all the necessary transport permits to participating art dealers via an emergency procedure, if necessary.”

“Customs and the Inspectorate operate according to the GP-specialist model. When customs officers find something that looks like protected heritage, they will call in an expert from the Inspectorate. Soon, we will be investing in our ‘first-line care’, by training a number of customs officers to become cultural property experts. Both organisations will benefit from that boost of knowledge. And so will society.”

This interview also appeared in our recently issued overview ‘Dutch Customs in 2019’. Click here to read the full publication.

Navigate further, and also read ‘Maria apparition in the mail sorting centre’.

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