by Maria Pia Guermandi (email@example.com) and Jean-Paul Demoule (firstname.lastname@example.org)
In the last four years, the Community for Legislation and Organization has embarked on a path of reflection on the Malta Convention. Through a series of thematic sessions and round tables organized during the last EAA conferences (Vilnius, Maastricht, Barcelona) we tried to take stock of the situation in the various European countries (Vilnius, Maastricht) and to open a discussion on the future of the Convention and on the need for an update (Barcelona, Berne). These and the many other initiatives on the application of the Convention that in recent years have taken place both within the EAA and elsewhere show, first and foremost, that the overall situation is highly fragmented, in terms of both legislative or institutional solutions and the methods applied.
In general, if on the one hand everyone recognizes that the Convention has produced an undeniable progress on many aspects of our discipline, on the other hand, it is equally established that the Malta Convention also raises many critical issues.
Starting from the whole debate revolving around state-centred archaeology, understood as a public service governed by mechanisms of public administration, versus development-led archaeology left up to the rules of the free market: a very heated debate on their diversity and irreducibility.
Moreover, there are problems tied to the different regulatory application of the Convention within the various national legislative systems, e.g. the different and not always optimal coordination between preventive archaeology and spatial planning procedures (a key element of the Malta Convention).
Thus many problems tied to the post-excavation phases remain unsolved (as regards both the preservation of the materials retrieved and documental archives, and the percentage of publication of the results at every level, local and national); other problems that emerged from the discussions are those of preservation in situ, raised in particular by Willem Willems, while the problem of illegal traffic has taken on such importance also as a result of the Middle Eastern conflicts to make autonomous protocols and regulations necessary.
Lastly, an area that requires a thorough redefinition is without a doubt public participation and involvement. Addressing this last topic means addressing the relationship between the Malta and Faro Conventions and, consequently, the problems the last one poses in terms of its institutional implementation, related to the profound crisis of the practices and concept of multiculturalism in contemporary Europe.
If those listed above are the main topics internal discussion has focused on, in this last quarter of a century the cultural, social and political horizon has changed completely. In many countries the competences of archaeologists are increasingly marginalised when it comes to decision-making processes on the one hand, while on the other – the other side of the coin – overall working conditions have worsened in terms both of pay and protection of the profession.
As a whole, the objectives of Malta Convention have been strongly conditioned by external political and economic factors: the economic crisis of 2008 and the spread of the neoliberal model above all. However, “internal” institutional factors have also often flattened out the hopes expressed in that document into technical-bureaucratic applications, greatly reducing its impact from a social and political viewpoint.
During the round tables organized previously by the Community and in particular in that of Barcelona 2018, the debate on the need for an update of the Convention was very lively: if everyone agrees on the critical aspects of the Convention and the need for corrective measures, for some the process of updating the Convention seems dangerous precisely because of the changed political situation less sensitive than before, at both European and national level, on the issues of protecting cultural heritage. This is certainly an aspect to be taken into account. We are aware of the fact that a possible process of adaptation of the Convention has a long time and results that are not certain. We know well that improving the conditions of archaeological activities in Europe and in individual countries is a complex issue that is not only linked to the Malta Convention and to the ways in which it has been applied.
On the other hand, we believe that opening up an updating process on such an important instrument has a strategic value and in a certain sense symbolic as it means first of all reaffirming the ability and the will of us archaeologists to face important challenges also in the political field.
In this direction we believe that since the next Berne conference it is highly desirable to compare ourselves with other communities, starting with the one on climate change and heritage and the one on the EIA directive that concerns projects involving preventive archaeology procedures, to verify the possibility of undertaking common paths. In the same way it will be very important to create connections and discussion tables with the communities on public and on urban archaeology due to the obvious thematic connections.
The discussion on the themes of the Convention could then also be extended to other Associations outside the EAA, above all in consideration of the fact that the same Convention has had a wider impact compared to all the countries adhering to the Council of Europe.
In our next session organized in Bern - Preventive Archaeology in the post-Malta Age: the challenges to be faced - starting from the results of the analogous sessions held in the previous EAA conferences, we will try to identify what tools can be used to face the many challenges listed above. And at the same time how the EAA can be involved in this process. We think the Association could become the protagonist of an innovative process of cultural elaboration based on the collective intelligence of its members, its communities and task forces, including, first of all, the EAA Community for Legislation and Organisation.
With this in mind and in view of the Bern round table, we invite all EAA members to join our community and let us know their opinion on these topics, and in the first place, on the need / opportunity for an update of the Malta Convention.
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