After Protests, SYRIZA Exempts Museums, Historic Sites from Privatization

Αssociated Press

FILE - In this Sunday, March 15, 2015 file photo, people walk on the main seaside avenue, as the White Tower is seen at the background, in the Greek northern town of Thessaloniki. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos, File)

ATHENS - Some 2,300 historic archaeological areas, museums, monuments and famous sites set to be sold off in Greece have been taken off a privatization list after protests the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA was going to let them go to make money.

That came after protests from Greeks fearing the country’s heritage might be sold off after Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who reneged on anti-austerity promises, also had reversed promises to halt the sale of state assets at what he called fire sale prices.

Knossos Palace in Crete was one of the priceless items put into a privatization  fund - a holding company owned by the Greek state - to meet demands of the Troika of the European Union-European Central Bank-European Stability Mechanism (EU-ECB-ESM) under terms of a third bailout in 2015, this one for 86 billion euros ($97.71 billion).

The government has repeatedly denied the site and monuments could be sold, but that has not prevented protests, including a one-day strike by archaeologists in October which closed the Acropolis, an attraction for millions of Athens visitors every year.

"The cultural assets are exempted," Culture Minister Myrsini Zorba told reporters announcing a ministerial decree on the matter. "We have 2,330 assets which are protected through a legal act and we can now rest."

One of those is Spinalonga, a small island that was a leper colony until 1957 and featured in Victoria Hislop's best-selling book The Island, said Reuters. Zorba said a full list of the assets would be published later.

The Culture Ministry said it had conducted cross-checks to find assets to be taken off the portfolio of state-owned real estate scheduled for development over the next 99 years.

The tomb of King Philip II of Macedon —Alexander the Great's father — in northern Greece, more than a dozen museums and most archaeological sites in the country’s second-largest city and major port  were removed from the list.

The list of heritage sites was compiled in June, sparking protests, but the ministry only published it on Jan. 22.


(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)