‘I got to know Tasoula when she assisted us with recruitment during my previous post at Europol. What was originally a business contact grew into a friendship. We quickly discovered common ground and similar interests, which led to discussions concerning her efforts to retrieve stolen Cypriot art treasures.
Illegal art trade is a huge problem. In the criminal world art is always about money and sometimes, about power. It is a widely used tool in conflict situations and art theft is of major concern in these areas – not particularly in the sense of frequency, but more because of its scale. These days it has become a matter of predictability to steal or systematically damage objects of art in war zones. The looting of museums or the destruction of historical heritage from places such as Iraq is brought to mind. This has enormous consequences; culture and tourism ultimately pay the price.
In order to protect cultural heritage international conventions are formed to ensure the prevention of plundering and destruction. Unfortunately, in this particular area, there is a huge gap between the hopeful dream and reality. That such conventions exist is a good and necessary thing. As far as enforcement is concerned, however, there are quite a few obstacles. It’s extremely difficult to locate stolen art treasures, and even when efforts succeed, there’s the inevitable problem of rightful ownership. This is usually a very complicated matter. A major issue in a legal dispute involving art is that the art in question has already been traded several times. If during this process someone has lawfully acquired an artefact in good faith, you’re faced with the difficulties of compensation. And because art is border trade you’re also dealing with national and international law. In short, you’re talking about procedures that are exceptionally complex and time consuming.
The beauty of Walk of Truth is that it will safely guard and exhibit the artefacts used in legal procedures, keeping them in proper climatic conditions as long as they are under discussion. This is certainly a commendable alternative, because art that is seized and brought to court, more often than not, disappears in cellars of the Judiciary and remains there for many years.
I have great admiration for Tasoula’s courage and enthusiasm: a wonderful woman who tirelessly pursues her ideals. She has an unwavering personal commitment to the repatriation of stolen Cypriot art treasures – a quest not devoid of danger. As a police officer I know all too well how dangerous the world of stolen art treasures can be and I have a lot of respect for her bravery and determination in venturing and operating in this risky environment.
I am also very enthusiastic about the underlining concept of Walk of Truth: to avoid an eternal struggle, culture can be a binding force in aid of people’s search for a solution. I think that culture can certainly be instrumental in reconciliation, but to reach that point mutual trust must first be established, that is crucial. Undoubtedly, in the beginning it will be important to develop initiatives that acknowledge a relationship of trust, thus allowing this initiative the opportunity to grow.
It will take time before trust is truly established, but the fact that Walk of Truth is seated in The Hague and the art will be kept there, could be an advantage. The city’s authority, recognised worldwide for its international tribunals, can certainly endorse the influence of Walk of Truth.’
Professor at the Benelux University Centre,
President of the Belgian Federal Police Council
and former Deputy Director at Europol,
Officier in de Orde van Oranje-Nassau