Antiquities in the Trash

Earlier this week, Facebook friends were circulating and commenting on an article in the Greek newspaper Ekathimerini about the ruin of Greek monuments and sites.  In the critical essay, “Greece’s Debt Mirrors Crisis in Cultural Assets,” A. Craig Copetas argues that Greece’s inability to protect and preserve its most important antiquities not only reflects current political problems but is itself caused by the politicization of the country’s material remains and an undeveloped cultural resource management program.  The opening lines from the piece:

“Plato doesn’t live here anymore.

A pack of feral cats chases the rodents that run past the Gypsy squatters who inhabit the bleak 32-acre Athens park that masks the birthplace of Western civilization. Alexandros Stanas says what’s interred beneath the debris illustrates both a solution to Greece’s 345 billion euro ($473 billion) sovereign debt crisis and why his country roils in catastrophe.

“Economics, politics, philosophy, everything that empowers our reasoning and ability to solve today’s problems was born here at Plato’s Academy,” says Stanas, a former management consultant at the Greek Ministry of Culture and Tourism who is now general director of the Art-Athina International Contemporary Art Fair.

“This is the original holy ground,” Stanas says, walking across the garbage that covers the buried foundation of the 387 BC intellectual incubator. “This is what we Greeks have allowed to happen to our ultimate metaphor for excellence.”

Stanas, 40, says that Plato’s Academy, discovered by a private archaeologist in the late 1920s, is one of hundreds of forlorn historic sites and destitute museums that generations of Greek politicians of all persuasions have failed to turn into attractions with the marketing clout of Versailles, the academic distinction of Harvard University or the influential draw of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.”

Copetas paints a dire picture of Greece’s ruins amidst an “escalating crisis”: Athens, a dump for tourists, drug addicts frightening tourists at the National Archaeology Musuem, rats at Plato’s academy, political rats in office. 

As one friend commented on the article in FB, there is nothing surprising about the entanglement of a country’s archaeological and cultural resource management programs in political and administrative bureaucratic mire—that occurs everywhere.  What is distinct, rather, is the degree of political mining of the material past for the purposes of election to office and the subsequent disregard for programs of cultural management.  Besides this rampant corruption, Copetas also draws attention to the country’s stagnant and uncreative management of its cultural heritage:

“Even the critically acclaimed New Acropolis Museum, which opened in 2009, after 33 years of ideological bickering, lingers as a target. Greek Communist Party Secretary General Aleka Papariga and the Greek Archaeologists Society have issued statements that condemn the 130 million euro facility co-funded by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and by the EU’s European Regional Development Fund as “unacceptable” and “in danger from the most extreme privatization.”

“Neither political party has the will or expertise to manage culture,” he says. “Government culture experts live in a bunker and view any outside help to manage our treasures and make them profitable as a threat to their livelihoods.”

Conventional wisdom dictates that cultural entrepreneurs not affiliated with either of the two main political parties are determined to Disneyfy Greece, Firos says, turning the country into a theme park with water slides on the Acropolis and a roller coaster down Mount Athos. As Geroulanos says, “I will tell anyone who wants to Disneyfy my country to go to hell.”

In the Corinthia, this inadequate management of cultural resources has led to the disintegration of the diolkos road, documented extensively by Sofia Loverdou and discussed in this previous post.  While Sofia has raised awareness of the physical deterioration of the road, the future of that monument seems bleak in this cultural climate.  A radical restart is needed. 

And it is unfortunate since the Corinth Canal, the (ironic) cause of the ancient road’s deterioriation, regularly generates income of public and private kind on a steady stream of traffic of vacationers and tourists, SUPers, party boaters, bungee jumpers, and extreme sports enthusiasts.  If the canal is already a source of money, then why do the ancient monuments benefit so little? 

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