ATHENS – Five of Greece’s most noted museums shut down temporarily to protest a law that will see their boards operate through government-appointed boards and would see the country loan out artifacts to other countries.
There was also concern that it could open the door for the New Democracy government to make a deal for a loan of the stolen Parthenon Marbles housed in the British Museum for 220 years and take away authority.
The bill was introduced by the Culture Ministry and designates five of the largest archaeological museums as legal entities under public law, critics complaining it sets up an oligarchical power structure, reported ArtNet.
The National Archaeological Museum, the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki, the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion, the Byzantine and Christian Museum, and the Museum of Byzantine Culture were the targets and they joined in a protest organized by the Association of Greek Archaeologists.
More than 1,000 workers also marched before as the bill was being debated, according to the group, whose members continued for two more days striking as the measure was passed by the government’s majority of lawmakers.
“The cultural heritage is our common property, we do not give it to the ‘elite’ of the respective government,” the association said in a statement this week. “Public Museums belong to all of us.”
The law was also attacked by major opposition SYRIZA-Progressive Alliance leader and former premier Alexis Tsipras who said it would let Greece loan out art treasures that have never left the country.
That was seen as a ruse for Greece to make a deal with the British Museum for a loan of the 2500-year-old Parthenon Marbles instead of continuing to fight for their outright return and not give up ownership.
The British Museum has proposed an agreement in which part of the marbles could be sent to Greece – the rest held hostage in the museum – and that Greece in return would have to loan artifacts to fill the vacated space.
“Once again, culture and the people of culture are under persecution,” Tsipras said although Culture Minister Lina Mendoni defended the law and said that, “Modernization is not a phase or a stage of development. It is an ongoing social process. After 150 years we dare to make changes.”
As for the bill’s potential impact on the Parthenon Marbles, Mendoni said, “I will repeat for the umpteenth time: The position of the Greek Government regarding the Parthenon Sculptures is that it does not recognize jurisdiction, possession. and ownership in the British Museum.” The state, she went on, The Board will have three members who are well-known figures in the arts, letters and sciences and the Culture Ministry will have two more members of the government-appointed panel.
The Greek museums could also open branches overseas – the British Museum’s proposals included opening an annex in Greece to show off the marbles – drawing more fire.
The Greek archaeologists association said that the law, “undermines the unified character of the Archaeological Service and leads to its dissolution,” and that the government wants control of the five museums.