NEWS

Archaeologists are opposed to exchanges and loans of antiquities outside Greece

An article in a new bill on protecting antiquities providing for loans and exchanges of monuments belonging to the State is meeting with strong opposition from The Association of Greek Archaeologists (SEA). The reference to the exchange of antiquities, in legal terms, means that the Greek State would relinquish sole ownership of an artifact which, according to Article 7 of the same bill, «as property of the State, cannot be traded.» SEA says the culture minister keeps invoking a provision in Law 5351/32 but neglects to say that for Law 5351, Article 53, to be implemented, the State is obliged to seek and abide by the approval of the majority of the Central Archaeological Council (KAS) members. The first law on this issue is 491/1914 which provides for exchanges within Greece, but this article has never been implemented and is considered only a formality. «The only time the Greek State has ever exchanged ancient artifacts was under a special law (3124/1955 on the exchange of specific ancient works of art) in order to send the palm of the Winged Victory of Samothrace to the Louvre in exchange for parts of the altar frieze at the same site. Archaeologists reject the idea of long-term loans of ancient artifacts for exhibitions or educational or research purposes. They say that this is not a temporary export of objects, since the article refers to a series of conditions for temporary exhibits, but it allows the culture minister to trade antiquities with museums, chiefly abroad, or to loan artifacts for unlimited periods of time, seeking only the opinion of KAS. They say the bill makes no mention of mutual exchanges, nor does it determine who is to evaluate these parameters. They add that any teaching or research establishment abroad would be able to «order» antiquities from state museums, virtually allowing foreign archaeological schools to send findings from their excavations to their universities and keep them for as long as they like. SEA points out that, as a result, Greece would not be in an equal position with other countries with regard to cultural issues, nor would the country’s cultural heritage be disseminated as the minister intends. On the contrary, the move indicates the State’s willingness to barter its cultural heritage. SEA also disapproves of other provisions, such as the need for unanimity on the part of various ministries to declare an archaeological site, the founding of new private museums, and an increase in the number of licensed private collectors. Meanwhile, antiquities dealers claim the bill tries to «involve the State in every area related to monuments and works of art»; they suggest differentiating between cultural artifacts of foreign countries, subdividing monuments according to historical period, and listing monuments to avoid «misunderstandings,» instead naming the finds in detail «without grouping them or referring to them in unspecific terms.» At the same time, the rail company (ISAP) has made 250 parking places available in nearby Athinas Street, in an 11-floor building right next to the company’s administrative building.