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Greek Minister of Culture Lina Mendoni views the 29 artifacts, including vessels that had been in the Shelby White Collection, repatriated to the people of Greece on March 21 at the Consulate General of Greece in New York. (Photo: Office of Public Diplomacy)
NEW YORK – For the antiquities seized by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, in the context of multiple criminal investigations against high-profile traffickers and smugglers, the value of which exceeds $20 million, as well as for other important matters that fall within the competence of the Ministry of Culture, such as reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures, the Tomb of Amphipolis, and the Dikteon Cave of Crete, we had the opportunity to talk with Greek Minister of Culture Lina Mendoni, after the repatriation ceremony of the 29 looted antiquities at the Greek Consulate in New York on March 21. In her short trip of only 48 hours, the Minister coordinated with the Manhattan DA’s Office for the return of the precious objects, some dating from 5000 BC, and a valuable part of the life of our ancient world.
TNH: Madam Minister, we would like you to tell us your impressions of your mission for the repatriation of antiquities.
Lina Mendoni: March 21, 2023 is a very significant day as 29 antiquities are being repatriated, 26 of which come from the Shelby White collection. The Greek Ministry of Culture collaborated with the Manhattan DA’s Office and Assistant District Attorney of Manhattan and Chief of the Antiquities Trafficking Unit Matthew Bogdanos’ team, in order to document the Greek origin of the specific objects. These are very interesting and I would say very rare finds, which are being repatriated and this really fills us with joy, but also hope, that this collaboration will yield many other fruits.
TNH: Have the talks on reuniting the Parthenon Sculptures been abandoned after the British Prime Minister’s statement ruling out a change in policy?
LM: They have not been abandoned at all. The British Prime Minister has his views and that is fine. But Greece has its own views and a request which is absolutely ethical and legal and which has been recognized by UNESCO. And Greece will continue to put pressure on the British side, in order to find the right solution, which will allow the Parthenon Sculptures currently in London, to return to Athens and reunite with the rest in the Acropolis Museum. Greece has and will always continue to have the firm position that the Sculptures in the British Museum are the products of theft and therefore cannot recognize its jurisdiction, ownership, and possession. For this reason, the Greek government and the Greek side will continue to push in every direction.
TNH: The plan to expand the National Archaeological Museum has been criticized because the park will partially cover the facade of one of the few remaining neoclassical buildings. Will provision be made to preserve the traditional icon?
LM: Nothing like this is anywhere in the plans. This is claimed by some having seen a photorealistic [depiction]. What has been shown is the proposal submitted by the office of David Chipperfield and Alexandros Topazis. It is not a study which in fact will begin in the coming weeks. What I can say is that there is absolute anticipation and absolute respect for the neoclassical building of the National Archaeological Museum, which is designated as a monument by the Ministry of Culture, therefore what some claim by “reading” the photo-realism in quotation marks, is their own personal approach.
TNH: When will the mound of Amphipolis be open to visitors?
LM: The Tomb of Amphipolis, we had said, should already be open to visits for special groups of the public. Unfortunately, severe weather phenomena created problems in Amphipolis and Timvos and in the wider area of Serres. So we have a delay in that. It could be accessible after 15-20 days, but it will be accessible, as I said, for special groups of the public, that is, for 5-6 people at a time and for a limited time, because the project is in progress and we are waiting for the installation of the contractor, who will work abroad, in order to lighten the pillars, which at the moment protect the monument. I will go up to Amphipolis very soon and I will say this, that traffic may start, but it will be for a limited time, because the project must be completed by the end of December 2023. Therefore, the contractor needs time to complete the tasks foreseen by the study.
TNH: Do you hope for funding from the Greek Diaspora for the museums that became Legal Entities under Public Law, with a law voted against by all the opposition parties?
LM: One of the objectives of the Museums, as Legal Entities under Public Law, is to attract sponsorships. This does not mean that the Greek state will stop financing them. Obviously, it will continue to finance them, but having an administrative and financial autonomy, the Boards of Directors can attract sponsorship programs and it is certain that they will also appeal to the Diaspora. And I must say, that especially for the National Archaeological Museum, because the plans for the future expansion that were presented were liked by many expatriates, among others, there are already proposals from Greeks abroad, who want to support the whole program.
TNH: The Recovery Fund is going to finance the excavation of a Minoan palace near the Dikteon Cave in Crete. What are the prospects of this excavation?
LM: The Recovery Fund will not finance excavations at Dikteon Antron, it will finance the improvement of its visitor site, because as you know, in order to visit Dikteon Antron, one needs to climb a rather difficult path. This is almost impossible for visitors who have some mobility issues. Therefore, in Dikteon Antron we are creating a cable car, so that the monument can be accessible to all our fellow citizens and, at the same time, we are renovating Europe Square, in order to restore as much as possible its form, which today is not the best, and to make it consistent with the wider archaeological and cultural landscape.
TNH: Madam Minister, thank you for the time you dedicated to the National Herald, on your short trip to New York.
LM: Thank you very much, as well. I would also like to say that Ethnikos Kirikas is almost the only newspaper in the Omogenia, which has credibility and maintains this level in such a persistent way. It informs the community in both English and Greek with validity about everything that is happening in Greece, but at the same time it also gives us in Greece information, which is very important, on issues concerning the Omogenia, which otherwise we would not know about.
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