In 1978, Austria ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which in its Article 15, establishes the right to participate in cultural life and academic freedom as fundamental human and civil rights.
In the following three decades, Austria considerably tightened its archaeological heritage legislation. In 1978, a permit for fieldwork was only required on scheduled monuments or if one wished to be exempt from the duty to pause works if finds had been made. In 1990 and 1999, the possibility to be granted a permit was first restricted to persons who had proven their archaeological competence, and then to archaeology graduates only. Since 2010, by issuing – incidentally mostly unlawful – guidelines, the National Heritage Agency (BDA) further restricted the conditions for permitted archaeological fieldwork: it now is only possible where, how, and by who the BDA wants it to be done; in effect prohibiting completely any participatory approach to archaeological fieldwork.
Yet, by ratifying the Faro Convention in 2015, Austria recommitted itself to an even more explicitly participatory approach to archaeology and other cultural heritage-related research; yet without any implementation in practice. For interested parties, this creates an unsolvable conundrum: is the Republic committed to promoting public participation in archaeology, does it only permit it under very specific circumstances, or does it prohibit it completely?
In this contribution, I will thus raise the question: is it time for the state to make up its mind? Or are firm commitments under International Law not worth the paper they have been printed upon if the state’s agency tasked with enforcing the law simply decides to disregard them?