Greek archaeologists plead for help to protect heritage

Greek archaeologists appealed to Europeans to help defend the nation?s cultural heritage and history amid cuts in the budget to maintain sites that include those around the 2,500 year-old Acropolis in Athens.

?The same austerity packages and authoritarian measures that are currently tearing apart Greece and its monuments, are going to be imposed across Europe,? the Association of Greek Archaeologists said in an e-mailed statement today.

The budget of the Culture and Tourism Ministry?s archaeological service was reduced by 35 percent, to 12 million euros ($16 million) in 2011 and will be cut further this year, the group said in the statement. The ministry?s total budget has been cut by 20 percent since 2010.

The government undertook to impose more austerity measures last month to secure a second 130 billion-euro aid package from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

The 7,000 ministry employees, including 950 archaeologists and 2,000 guards, are responsible for 19,250 archaeological sites and monuments; 106 museums and collections of prehistoric, classical and Byzantine antiquities; 366 projects and hundreds of excavations. They have a budget of 498 million euros that the EU co-finances, according to the statement.

?We are not overstaffed, nor are we being overpaid,? the group said. A new hire earns 670 euros a month after tax and other contributions, compared with 880 euros a month in 2009.

Receipts from visits to museums and archaeological sites rose 4.6 percent to 47.3 million euros in the first 11 months of 2011, the Hellenic Statistical Authority said on March 8.

Funding for museum security will be cut 20 percent, the archaeologists said. This comes after two big robberies in January and February, one at the Archaeological Museum of Olympia, birthplace of the Olympic Games, the other at the National Gallery in central Athens. Three paintings were stolen from the gallery, including one donated by Pablo Picasso. [Bloomberg]

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