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Throwback: the Anchise Forum - "Advancing the Fight Against Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Goods"

On the 3rd April 2024, policy makers, heritage professionals, researchers, experts, and innovators gathered at the Palais des Académies in Brussels and online, for the ANCHISE Forum: a pivotal event focused on advancing the fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural goods.

With more than 80 in-person participants and 60 users connected online, the Anchise Forum saw important professionals from different fields come across the stage. Researchers, law enforcement agency professionals, heritage professionals and technological experts took turns painting a complete picture of what Anchise is and what our main achievements are as a project, while also discussing the next steps for combating illicit trafficking.

The event was opened by Professor Didier Viviers, président secrétaire perpétuel of the Academy of sciences in Brussels, who welcomed participants to the wonderful venue. Christina Sarvani (DG RTD) and then Dr. Rodrigo Martin Galan, Research Programme Officer of the ANCHISE project (Research External Agency) presented an overview of the Horizon Europe programme in the framework of the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural goods. Their presentations allowed the various professionals to understand better the wide action driven by the European commission to protect the cultural heritage which allowed the Anchise’s project’s cluster to come to light with its 2 sisters projects: Aurora and Enigma.

Finally, Professor Véronique Chankowski, Director of the École française d’Athènes and coordinator of the project gave a presentation of the project, its partners and activities. This set the stage for discussions on the multifaceted challenges posed by the illicit trafficking of cultural goods and the strategies to face them.

As the afternoon went by, key sessions allowed the presentations on the ANCHISE toolkit of innovative solutions to unwrap. The presentations of the tools were given by representatives from ANCHISE’s partners institutions. These encompassed diverse tools functions, such as site monitoring and protection (Titien Bartette, ICONEM), heritage collection protection (Huajian Liu, Fraunhofer SIT), border control object identification support (Axel Kerep, PARCS), database design (Sorin Hermon, The Cyprus Institute), semantic analysis, heterogeneous processing and interoperable data (Evgenia Adamopoulou, ICCS), and cultural good detection and characterization by fluorescence emissions (Armando Fernandes, INOV). The presentations shed light on the innovative technological solutions and collaborative efforts aimed at enhancing the identification, protection, and preservation of cultural heritage made within the Anchise project. 

The forum also featured the unveiling of the ANCHISE Policy Brief 1, paving the way for recommendations to address the challenges identified. Marco Fiore from Michael Culture Association presented the insights and proposals brought in the scope of the project and aimed at informing policy decisions and shaping future actions in the fight against illicit trafficking: the policy brief specifically focused on the importance of an holistic and multi-stakeholders approach, the centrality of an active policy and on how to better develop awareness raising activities.

The second part of the afternoon was dedicated to two roundtables. 

The first one brought together 5 policy makers: Céline Chazelas-Baur (European Commission, DG Migration & Home Affairs, coordination of the EU Action Plan against trafficking in cultural goods), Christina Sarvani (Policy Officer, European Commission, DG Research, Technology and Innovation), Marie-Véronique Leroi (Project manager Linked Open Data strategy, French Ministry of Culture), Elisabeth Brague (Greek Ministry of Culture) and Oriol Freixa Matalonga (Liaison Officer at the UNESCO Liaison Office in Brussels). Asked about their institutions’ action, the session provided a platform for engaging dialogues among panelists representing governmental bodies, cultural organizations, and law enforcement agencies. The panelists shared their insights on legislative measures, international cooperation, and policy frameworks aimed at combating illicit trafficking of cultural goods. 

When asked about the Action Plan from December 2022, Céline Chazelas-Baur (European Commission) addressed its scope of action, the originality of the initiative but also the challenges it faced :

“It is extremely hard, dismantling organized crime networks behind the individual cases. Criminals operate across borders, to blow their traces, to make money : many crimes remain undetected”

In order to address those challenges, 4 priorities were addressed : improving prevention and detection of crimes by involving market participants and cultural heritage institutions, strengthening law enforcement and judicial capabilities, boosting international cooperation, and gaining support of other stakeholders.

Topics addressed ranged from legislative measures and international mobilization,  to the role importance of sharing and responsibly stocking data for the effective protection of cultural heritage, as presented by Marie-Véronique Leroi from the French Ministry of Culture.

The second round table brought together practitioners from various sectors deeply involved in the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural goods. 

On the stage 4 professionals were present: Isabelle Meslier (Seconded National Expert, EUROPOL), Agathe Le Riche - Maugis, (Project Manager at Bibracte, coordinator of the PITCHER Project), Hélène Ventimiglia (Coordinator of Heritage Protection Department ICOM) and Ted Oakes (Policy Coordinator, EUROPA NOSTRA, Heritage HUB). They provided insights into the role of cultural institutions in preserving and safeguarding cultural heritage, emphasizing the importance of collaboration. Moderated by Dr. Morgan Belzic, from the University of Poitiers, the panelists addressed their experiences, their institutions’ various actions, their use of technological solutions and overall goals for the fight for the preservation of cultural heritage. The necessity of a robust and conjoint regulatory framework and enhanced collaboration to protect cultural heritage from exploitation and illicit trade was at the center of the discussion : 

“I supposed the “fils rouge” in all of this and how this impacts the cultural heritage is  that our work is about advocacy, about networking (...) It’s only when we act  together and work together that we can protect cultural heritage”
Ted Oakes, Europa Nostra

Attendees actively participated in the discussions, onsite and online, bringing to light diverse situations, perspectives and insights to advance collective efforts in safeguarding cultural heritage. The forum’s first day concluded with closing remarks by Professor. Véronique Chankowski emphasizing the importance of sustained collaboration, multi-stakeholders approach and collective action in combating illicit trafficking of cultural goods.

In addition to the insightful discussions, the event facilitated networking opportunities, allowing participants to forge connections and explore potential joined actions for collaboration beyond the forum. In conclusion, the ANCHISE "Advancing the Fight Against Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Goods" Forum exemplified a collaborative effort to confront a global challenge, emphasizing the importance of dialogue, innovation and collective action.


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