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The crisis has increased the number of treasure hunters in Greece

14 March 2012 / 22:03:59  GRReporter
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Anastasia Balezdrova

In the first two months of the year alone, two cultural sites in Greece became the victims of robbery: three paintings, one of Picasso were stolen from the National Gallery in downtown Athens and over 65 exhibits from the old museum in Ancient Olympia.

The successful attacks by thieves who have not yet been captured have launched a controversy about how well the exhibits in Greek museums are guarded.

"After the two thefts, on 5 March, Minister Pavlos Geroulanos signed an order cutting security systems in museums by another 20%," said the chairwoman of the company Despina Kutsumba. "We need guards not only during the day when the museum is open but also at night to guard it inside. Guards are needed outside to walk around the sites in order to prevent illicit excavations." As she stated, their numbers have been constantly increasing.

"We are not talking just about "professional" treasure-hunters, who were seized by police in many cases. There is an increase in the number of people, who just dig around archaeological sites, hoping to find something and sell it."

Currently, day and night watchmen guarding all archaeological sites and museums in Greece number 2,000, and until last year, another 2,500 people joined them on temporary contracts for the period between May and October.

"When the Minister of Culture officially reports that he is cutting the budget by 35%, he is giving a clear signal about the state of the relevant structures. Both thefts this year are not at all accidental. They are not organized locally, but are acts of international networks trafficking works of art. If the Minister continues to cut the budget of the Ministry, he will be the sole culprit for what might happen to our national heritage."

In November last year, 309 highly experienced employees left work under the labour reserve programme. According to archaeologists, if employees are cut, the staff will not be able to cover even our basic needs. "We are doing only what is urgent at present due to lack of funds. In practice, we have funding only from the European Union through the National Strategic Framework for Development. However, it can include a number of monuments from each administrative area. We are trying to carry out restoration and maintenance with almost non-existent funds. For example, there are 3000 monuments in the Epirus region. Only four of them are included in the European Union funding programme. What will happen to the others?"

Excavations continue, but archaeologists say that most of them are not carried out for new findings but to save those found during the construction of modern facilities. "In this case, other ministries provide for the funds and private companies are required to pay for conducting the excavations."

"All politicians say that culture and the related tourism are the "heavy industry" of Greece. These are empty words given that only 1% of the state budget was allocated for culture even in the years before the crisis. From 2010 onwards, even that 1% has been reduced several times and they want to further reduce it," added archaeologists.

According to them, the Ministry of Culture is interested only in major archaeological sites. "Elsewhere, some museums have reduced their working hours or open only a few days a week. On islands such as Leros and Kasos, there are small museums, which have already closed their doors. Even the museum in Rhodes has closed one of its wings. The same has happened with galleries in the Byzantine Museum in Athens and Thessaloniki."

A dismissal of a guard or archaeologist is equal to the destruction of an ancient statue, said Greek archeologists and announced the start of a campaign, which aims "to create a protective shield around our cultural heritage."

"Monuments have no voice. They must have yours!" is the main motto of the posters showing antique and contemporary works, written in English, French, German and Greek. Archaeologists call all Europeans to be committed to their problems, which may be detrimental to the heritage of the country. "We invite everyone to go and be photographed in front of ancient Greek monuments in the museums in their countries, attach the logo of the campaign, and then upload the photos on their Facebook page."

On 18 April, when the International Day for Monuments and Sites is celebrated, archaeologists intend to organize artistic events not only in front of the buildings in Greece but also in museums throughout Europe.


Tags: ArcheologistsMinistry of CultureTresure huntersArcheological sitesMuseumsCampaign
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