Five archeological museums in Greece have closed to the public this week in protest of a new law that reassigns the control of their operations to government-appointed boards. The Association of Greek Archeologists (AGA) organized the rolling network-wide protests, stating that the government’s decision “dismembers the Archaeological Service and fragments the unified protection of cultural heritage.” Previously, the museums were managed by the Archeological Services, a sector of the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sport.
The National Archeological Museum, the Museum of Byzantine Culture, the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki, the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion, and the Byzantine and Christian Museum were impacted by the bill’s passing. The legislation apparently affords the five museums more operational autonomy, especially with efforts overseas, but subsequently leaves them in charge of independently managing other avenues such as fundraising and generating revenue.
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The AGA statement also noted that the government-appointed boards would be entrusted with the fate of the most important collections of antiquities and can even decide to permanently export them. This “export” clause in the new law may allow looted antiquities to remain abroad for longer periods before they are returned to Greece, sparking concerns surrounding the nation’s bid to have the Parthenon marbles repatriated from the British Museum who has held out for decades.
In a statement supporting a petition for repeal, AGA President Despina Koutsoumba said that the new managing boards will approach museum leadership with commercial success in mind, aiming for “financial profit, increasing ticket prices, abolishing all free services for the public, while they will have the authority to establish branches abroad, permanently exporting antiquities from Greece.”
Prior to the new motion, archeologist managers who are considered civil servants cared for the five museums and regarded the collections as property of the Greek people. When the new law passed on Monday, over 1,000 museum workers abstained from their work duties to march outside of the Parliament. The museums remained closed through Wednesday as the workers and AGA continued to protest the decision.
Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said in her speech that the “modernization” efforts were long overdue, and that time in the five museums “was frozen for some decades.”
“Rapid social and cultural developments and rapid technological development have shaped a new public with increased demands and different cultural, educational and social needs, interests and expectations,” Mendoni continued.
Former Greek prime minister and current leader of the left-wing Syriza party Alexis Tspiras blasted the decision the day it was passed, lamenting that “culture and its people were persecuted for a long time in Greece and in the most brutal way.”
The AGA stated that they will aim to have the government’s “despicable and destructive law on Museums” repealed by filing an appeal to the Council of State. “Until the decision of the Supreme Court, we do not recognize the validity of this law,” the statement concludes.