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Why efforts must be made to preserve the ancient assets of Greece & Egypt

Egypt [1] & Greece [2] have both been beset by rioting in the past twelve months & have both had high profile thefts from their museums. Every effort must be made, to try & stop similar events happening again. Once items disappear once, there is no guarantee that the country will recover them – they are pieces of their history that has been preserved for many years, yet is now no longer there. They are losing part of their cultural identity.

Guardian [3]

Precious past: why the ancient assets of Greece and Egypt must be saved
20th Feb 2012

While Greece and Egypt are destabilised by the eurozone debt crisis and revolution, we must do more to protect their vast store of the world’s antiquities

In the British Museum on a Sunday afternoon, ancient faces look back at children and adults alike. Inside their glass cases, pharaohs and priests are unfazed by the crowds. And crowds there always are, for these are the painted coffins and carved masks of the ancient Egyptians, relics of a culture that has entranced the world for thousands of years.

Ancient civilisation is part of the world’s heritage, and in recent times it seemed nothing could seriously threaten that inheritance. Tourists visited such sites as Giza in Egypt and Olympia in Greece safe in the assumed knowledge that we were seeing wonders that would always be available to admire.

Yet the instability of the world in 2012 is a threat to the apparently tranquil monuments of antiquity. In Greece, anxiety and alienation as the weakest economy in the eurozone faces terrible pressure to transform its way of life had a troubling reflection at Olympia last week, where a museum of the ancient Greek games was raided by thieves. Perhaps this was coincidence, but it is the second recent museum robbery in Greece.

Meanwhile in Egypt, tourism levels have plummeted since the revolution, and hotels are half-empty.

This is where the word “tourism” becomes in itself pernicious. People who visit Egypt to see ancient art are certainly tourists, in the country that was at the heart of the very idea of modern tourism. But this word has unfairly come to imply a selfish, shallow form of consumer spending, economically valuable to poor countries but irrelevant to the higher concerns of national self-determination and democratic change.

To reduce the problems of the Egyptian tourist industry to these cold terms is wrong. Many people visit Egypt with a passionate longing to gaze on the eyes of Tutankhamun and stand at the foot of the Great Pyramid. More practically, the revenues from tourism help keep Egyptian sites and museums going. To say these places are only of interest to “tourists” would be tragic and miserable.

Both Greece and Egypt are guardians of sites and objects of the highest importance to the entire world. If Unesco has any value it is surely to scrutinise the fate of antiquities in times like these. And if we shrug and write off antiquity as the stuff of tourism and scholarship, “irrelevant” to these extraordinary times, we are already well on the way to barbarism.

New York Times [4]

Robbing Greece of Its Pride
| February 17, 2012, 6:53 am

LONDON — In another blow to Greek pride, as the country struggles to meet its European partners’ demands for a financial bailout, armed robbers broke into a museum at the birthplace of the ancient Olympics on Friday and made off with a haul of treasures.

Pavlos Geroulanos, Greece’s culture minister, was reported to have offered his resignation immediately after learning of the heist, the second major art theft this year. In January, thieves fled the National Gallery in Athens with $6.5 million-worth of art, including paintings by Pablo Picasso and Piet Mondrian.

The latest theft was blamed by some on budget cuts that have been imposed on all aspects of Greek public life in an attempt to rein in the country’s runaway debt.

Friday’s raid targeted the Ancient Olympia museum in southern Greece where a ceremony is scheduled for May 10 to light the Olympic flame for this year’s Games in London.

As the BBC’s foreign editor Jon Williams tweeted:.

“As if #Greece not got enough problems: 68 objects stolen from Athens museum dedicated to ancient #Olympics. Items of “incalculable” value.”

When Mr. Geroulanos announced last month that he would offer cut-price permits for films and photographic shoots at monuments such as the Parthenon, he was accused of “renting out” Greece’s art treasures to cover budget cuts.

Culture ministry security guards have been among the low-level public workers demanding job security and exemption from further budget cuts, in their case on the basis of the potential impact on museum security.

The latest robbery will be seized on as another symbol of a breakdown of Greek society in the face of the draconian austerity measures being imposed on the country’s 11 million people.

Rioting in Athens at the weekend in response to a government decision to bow to the demands of the country’s European creditors has spurred a mood of national humiliation. Some commentators say the Greeks have only themselves to blame while others suggest they should tell the European Union to get lost.

Rendezvous reader Richard McDonough wrote from Irvine, California, in response to our article on Wednesday entitled “The Decline and Fall of Greece”: “It is clear that the necessary austerity required to fulfill this bankers club’s members will eviscerate the average working stiff Greek. Were I Greece I would default, leave the EU, drop its currency and do what I could to make my own way.”

Before the weekend, however, it looked as if €130 billion bailout deal will be finalized on Monday.

The bargaining has brought some sharp exchanges touching on Greek pride and appeals for Europe to avoid humiliating the Greeks. One such appeal came from Alexis Papahelas, executive editor of the Greek daily Kathimerini who wrote in a contributed article in IHT Global Opinion this week:

“Some of our partners seem to focus more on ways to humiliate our political leaders or the average Greek than they are on getting the job done. If they somehow believe that they will force a change of political culture and personnel through intimidation, they are dead wrong.”