COMMENT

Monumental mistakes

By Maria Katsounaki

“A certain hotel complex in Messinia is offering guests a chance to take part in archaeological digs at Ancient Messene! Excavation is degraded from a scientific process into a tourist attraction!” Thus reads a statement by the cultural committee of the leftist opposition SYRIZA party, exclamation points and all. Eight deputies have submitted a question on the issue to Greece’s minister of culture.

Does that mean to say that Professor Petros Themelis, a man who has devoted the past 27 years of his career – and life – to the archaeological excavations at Ancient Messene, has consented to turning the site into a tourist attraction? And what is the reasoning behind SYRIZA’s attack? Reading the question is enough to grasp the party’s total ignorance on the issue, the parochialism, the distortion of facts, the complete divorce from international practice, the demonization of change, the frustrating attachment to ideas that put the brakes on progress or at least on any attempt toward progress.

Excavation tourism is, first of all, an international practice. The program, which was prepared by Costa Navarino luxury resorts, would also benefit the Society for Messenian Archaeological Studies, which supports excavation work in the area. For decades now, volunteers of all ages and professions from many countries have informally augmented the work of archaeologists with love and affection. It seems however that doing so “informally” was acceptable, while getting “organized” support from a private investors is not. The first reaction came from the Employees Association of the Archaeological Service. It was then caught by by the Archaeological Society, which requested that the program be brought to a halt. And so it was. The effort was killed in the offing.

“I was surprised,” Themelis told Kathimerini in a laconic statement. “It was the most pioneering development in the archaeological community in recent decades because it engages citizens from around the world withn our country’s monuments. No matter how you choose to look at it, this could only yield benefit,” said Stavros Benos, the man behind Diazoma, a citizen group focused on promoting the country’s ancient theaters.

According to SYRIZA, it seems monuments are not connected to life nor the economy. If it is not the state, with its usual signatures, stamps and endless consultation, if it is not financed by ministries and run by state officials, then it must be a sell-out, an “exotic experience for tourists.”

Conservatism, allergies to anything that goes against the status quo, which treats cultural legacy as property of time and history, has no proposal for the future. It feeds on inertia, it reproduces ignorance as an achievement to be safeguarded, it invests in the fear of taking responsibility. And all that suggests everything but love for the monuments.

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