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The effects of cultural artefact repatriation for Greece

An interesting followup to the previous post [1] about the ongoing problems of artefact looting within Greece.

SAFE [2]

Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Repatriation Effects: Greece’s National Archaeological Museum

In the Galleries:

While we all revile the looting of archaeological sites and the illicit trade of artifacts, we can now begin to review the effects of the repatriation of ancient material back to the countries of origin. Here I am not referring to Native American remains, but the statues and vases created by the ancient cultures of the Mediterranean. Recently, I visited the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, Greece, which has seen financial and public relations troubles partly due to the national economic crisis. Here, I saw the 2007 repatriated kore from the J.P. Getty Museum standing amongst other statues without any bells or whistles describing its sordid history. Also on display was a bronze athlete, repatriated in 2002, propped in its own corner. I believe that the return of these objects reflect legal and ethical principles, which absolutely must be upheld.

While the national discourse in Greece regarding ancient cultural heritage is strong in its attempts to lure in tourism, I question how the everyday Greek citizen feels toward their ancient heritage. There seems to be a prevalent sense of a general disregard and annoyance bordering on anger regarding the material remains of the past. Rather than culture, most Greeks are focused on making ends meet and finding jobs as well as putting their children through school and hoping that they also will be able to find jobs. Whether or not they visit the multi-million euro, new Acropolis museum if they can afford the entrance fee is one thing, but another is the expense the country has born in order to fight for the repatriation of artifacts on the international stage (ex. The Parthenon Marbles at the British Museum).

In 2010, Greece proposed an MOU with the United States, requesting help to end the international trade in illicit antiquities (CPAC’s decision has still not been made public). Now, reports of further looting are circulating and what little funds that the government has left is being funneled into paying museum and site guards during the summer tourist season as well as other public employees who are still waiting for months and months of back pay. Greece is in an unfortunate position and I do not want to hastily simplify the complicated situation. However, I feel inclined to ask, if the preservation of heritage should be higher on the list of issues to worry about. If this is so, can or should heritage be used to bring about solidarity and social cohesion? Can heritage bring the hope that seems to be in short supply during these trying times in this most magnificent nation?