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Could licensing its history help Greece end its financial crisis?

Most countries in the western world inherit a huge amount of their cultural tradition from the ancient Greeks. From the Romans onwards, the political systems, philosophical approach, art & architecture have all borrowed heavily on Hellenic culture, using it as their foundations. Perhaps now is the time for some of these countries to think about how they can give something back – to acknowledge their cultural debt to Greece, by doing whatever they can to help support the country in its current situation.

Tourism is a huge source of income for Greece, bringing foreign money into the country – so the crisis shouldn’t be seen as a reason to stay away – but an excuse (as if one was needed) to return & rediscover the country.

Greece has made steps towards monetizing the licensing of its intellectual property [1] – these should be given the support they deserve, rather than criticised as profiteering.

Perhaps most of all, for the reasons already given, now is the right time to return the Parthenon Marbles [2]. They would be safe, because they would be held in the recently opened New Acropolis Museum & they would bring a fresh influx of tourists to Athens to see the sculptures reunited for the first time in over two hundred years. If Britain ever found itself in a similar situation, surely the British would expect the same?

Forbes [3]

3/15/2012 @ 3:01PM |1,493 views
One Way Greece Could Get Out Of Debt: License Its History

Of all the places I know, Greece lies most at the core to me, the place to which I always return as if visiting a beloved, again. To be there has always meant to be surrounded by life, poems, history, legacy, beauty of place, art and timelessness. Greece, for so many, has been a fountain of thought, cradle and pillar of western civilization, of course.

Such is its fascination for me that I carry a pocket Odyssey with me always, to read if I find myself waiting, wherever I may be waiting. And such is the global fascination with Homer’s great epic that I just recently read of yet another expedition to locate Odysseus’ home, the island to which he could not help but return.

Now as the Greek people struggle with austerity and debt, much not of their own making but made for them by corrupt and questionable officials, I wonder how this most special place can fare. We read of the flat economy, no source of economic growth, budget slashing, homelessness heretofore unheard of. An apparent near absence of tourists. The debate has at times taken a snide turn, as if Greece were merely a burden of weight. With what cash, we ask, can Greece repay?

On my last trip to Greece, I could not help but start my own informal accounting on what would in today’s commercial terms be called “intellectual property.” What, I wondered, if Greece were able to charge for what the fountain of its creativity has put forth in the world. Surely the world would owe Greece, not the other way around, if Greece could license its intellectual property.

We can start simply: How about the Parthenon itself? How many copies of its image, I wonder, have been printed around the world. Surely, trillions. I know I myself would have a breathtaking bill for all the times I’ve looked up at the Parthenon. In fact, I’d have to admit to being an Acropolis view addict, because I find that if I can see the Acropolis, it is hard to take my eyes from it. I look away, then back, as if to be sure it is still there. Surely, very few images are both so transcendent and accessible. Imagine the ledger if Greece could charge for every time the Acropolis had been drawn on a restaurant place mat or coffee cup, let alone etched into crystal, painted in oils, embossed onto tee shirts and key rings and carved out of meringue for holiday cakes?

And what about the nomenclature of the mischievous, wise and thrilling gods and goddesses? Take Venus alone. We all owe her our love, our follies, our fun, but we’ve never paid Greece a penny for it. Hermes? That handsome winged-foot god makes the perfect logo, but has any florist or messenger company ever paid to use it?

How many times have the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides—the core basic three—been staged worldwide, over thousands of years, in probably every language known on earth? Long long ago, these plays entered what we now call the public domain, but they are so universal, they redefine the meaning of the term. Can a creative work become so public, it belongs to all and all therefore must pay something for it. A penny? A euro? An ancient drachma? Surely the debt owed by Greece would be settled very soon were theaters to pay the Greek people a royalty every time the curtain rose on any one of these author’s works.

To this list let us add the iconic works of Sappho, or the more modern writers whose estates are now our own— C.P. Cavafy, Giorgos Seferis. The Olympics, Plato, Aristotle—almost clichés, yet free of charge. Too free?

Who can price the priceless pleasure of viewing the anonymous bronze statues in the National Museum of Athens. What of the sheer perfection of the bronze said to be Paris, said to be possibly offering a golden apple, though the apple is not there. The movement in his frame as he throws his weight from one foot to the other can be felt as motion in the mind’s eye. The statue is metal, yet it seems to float. For the enduring pleasure and sustenance millions draw from this status alone, has buying a ticket to enter the Museum been sufficient?

I remember once overhearing an obnoxious tourist complaining about the heat that was wearing him out. He had been tramping around Egypt, too, and Turkey, looking at ruins. Frustrated, hot, but still not headed home, he quipped to his entourage that he was “fed up with these countries that have nothing to offer but their ancient civilizations.”

Free rider, I thought.

It is not to say that those of us living outside the bubble of Greece’s forced retreat must share the pain. Or that there hasn’t been abuse of funds and extensive tax evasion—yes, the financial workings of modern Greece has been a monument to incompetence. But one must also not forget that Greece endured decades of suffering and repression under a military junta, and during that time, an entire generation of Greeks learned to starve the beast the government had become, not feed it, in an attempt to outlive the heel of fascism. The junta, supported significantly by the U.S., eroded Greek confidence, and brought the nation disgrace. During these dark times, it was indeed the brilliance of ancient Greek thought that help keep the spirit of Greece going. During these times, paying taxes would simply have made it easier for the government to torture its people.

Greece does owe the world, but so the world owes Greece. At the Greeks now face the tough task of meeting the terms of its latest bailout, we ought not to deride a place that has been our wellspring in so many ways. Even that first line of the Odyssey is worth its weight in gold. “Oh tell me oh Muse,” indeed. Of what price for the priceless, oh Muse.