Greece is faced yet again with the possibility of defaulting on its massive debt. On Tuesday, the country’s culture ministry said that it may make some of its many archaeological sites open to advertising and other ventures. Doing so, says a report in Agence-France Presse, is meant to “facilitate” access to Greece’s many ruins, as well as to provide money to help with their upkeep and monitoring. The first site available will be one of the most famous, the Acropolis in the center of Athens.
The Acropolis overlooks Syntagma Square, where Greeks have been assembling to protest the austerity measures –wage cuts and tax increases, such as a tax on energy use — that the Greek government has had to push through, in order to receive bailout funds — 130 billion euro ($165.5 billion) in total – from the “troika” of the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Greece is attempting to decrease its debt by 100 billion euros through 2014, by forcing bankers to take a 50 percent loss on new bonds received in a debt exchange. This “haircut” means that investors could lose up to 60 or 70 percent and is a huge and hard pill to swallow. Hedge fund managers have responded by saying that they may sue Greece in a human rights court to pay up on its debts, the New York Times reports. While such a tactic is “not… likely to produce sympathy for these funds, which many blame for the lack of progress so far in the negotiations over restructuring Greece’s debt,” legal experts say the hedge funds may have a case because property rights are human rights in Europe. The funds would be arguing in the European Court of Human Rights that bondholder rights have been violated.
Talks between the Greek government and private bondholders broke down last week and resumed this Wednesday. Greece has adopted a “more aggressive tone” towards its creditors under pressure from Germany, which has insisted that, with Greece’s debt comprising 140 percent of its GDP, it must be reduced as quickly as possible.
Archaeological Sites For Rent: Sacrilege?
Hence the culture ministry’s announcement (made via a December memo) to offer a professional photographic shoot of the Acropolis for as little as 1,600 euros a day ($2,046). Previously, Greece’s Central Council of Archaeology has been very resistant to granting access to the country’s archaeological treasures and archaeologists consider renting them out for commercial and such uses sacrilege.
The Greek government’s financial woes have already affected access to sites. I’ve taken groups of students to Greece for three years in a row (from 2009 -2011) and have noticed a definite change in circumstances. In 2011, we saw numerous darkened storefronts and many of those still open had big SALE signs in the windows. In Thessaloniki, sections of the archaeological museum were roped off, closed to access due to lack of staff. Some other sites, including some ancient Mycenean tombs in Lefkadia outside of Thessaloniki, were locked shut.
The one place where there were workers in droves was at the majestic Acropolis Museum, which is right beside the Acropolis and opened in June of 2009. The sculptures and statues that once graced the Parthenon (the temple to Athena atop the Acropolis) are now in the museum’s climate-controlled environs and circulating among them were numerous museum employees, clearly noticeable in their uniforms. When I observed to our tour guide that there was a plethora of workers as compared to other sites we’d visited, he said, yes, the museum is run not — as is every other museum and site we had visited — by the Greek government, but by a private corporation, according to an agreement with the government.
It seems the private sector has already stepped into the management of Greece’s national treasures, for better, for worse?
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Photo of the Acropolis seen through the third floor of the Acropolis Museum by the author.