10 signs of disintegration in Greece; and its archaeology and looting crisis

Last night, impotently watching Greece implode, I tweeted the most immediate signs of disintegration in Greece. Here, I explain and source those signs; then I show the consequent crises of archaeology and looting.

The 10 signs of disintegration in Greece

1. a disintegrating pushmi-pullyu (“push me, pull you”) government, where the (in Greece, more-than-)two-headed animal cannot progress anywhere, because each head wants to go in a different direction;

2. street violence, where not only do protesters damage bank buildings and other commercial property, but also protesters and police fight hand-to-hand; and not only those, but also left and right-wing movements, and even left-wing factions amongst themselves, like anarchists and communists;

3. a police split between beating protesters and arresting the troika for blackmail, where the Greek Police Officers’ Union has warned that it will formally request arrest warrants for senior officials of the EU/ECB/IMF troika for ‘extortion‘, and ‘covertly abolishing or eroding democracy and national sovereignty’; but, in collaboration with fascist thugs, the police officers on the street have beaten indignant protesters, journalists, and even eight-year-old children; and they flood city centres with tear gas, which killed Dimitris Kotsaridis;

4a. its politicians’ agreement to national serfdom: Greece already had 21% adult and 48% youth unemployment, 20,000 homeless and 250,000 dependent upon church soup kitchens for food; and its finances were ‘already to a large extent controlled by foreign forces‘; in this debt serfdom, just the most recent austerity measures include a 25% cut to the minimum wage (to €586; €470 after tax), and a 32% cut to the under-25 minimum wage (to €511; €350 after tax), as well as firing 15,000 more civil servants by the end of 2012 (150,000 more by the end of 2015);

4b. the EU/ECB/IMF troika’s demand for more, (further) humiliating the government/state and enraging the people: it has demanded another €325m savings and a €300m, 15% cut to public pensions, when some pensioners are already using their pensions to support their children and grandchildren, and some parents are already forced to put their children in social care;

5. the occupation of its Ministries of Finance, Health and Labour, 1 working hospital(!), and 20+ town halls; and the Office of the Minister of the Environment (where the occupiers held Minister George Papaconstantinou locked in his office for at least five hours, until the police intervened);

6. repeated, chronic, organised and wildcat, and 24-hour general strikes; and now a 48-hour general strike;

7. repeated attempts to storm parliament;

8. an exodus from the country (to the last century’s repeated trauma of ksenitia), in which tens of thousands of young Greek professionals – and, in total, half-a-million Greeks – have emigrated to the UK, the US, Australia, Germany, even Turkey;

9. violence against immigrant workers, where police and right-wing extremists conduct ‘pogrom-like‘ assaults on immigrant communities and asylum seekers; and

10. a turn/push to extreme politics and acts, evidenced in votes for extremist left and right-wing political parties, and the acute and chronic, nationwide social violence.

And what was the subject of the last e-mail I received from a Greek friend? Setting up a recipe exchange. Some of my friends are raging in the streets; others are at home, utterly resigned.(fn1)

The archaeology and looting crisis in Greece

Metal detectors for sale in Thessaloniki, Greece, 2003.

Metal detectors for sale in Thessaloniki, Greece, 2003

This economic crisis is also limiting or preventing the preservation and conservation of Greece’s archaeological sites. A 35% budget cut, causing at least 2,500 cultural job losses; strikes; and ‘even… riots’ are closing cultural heritage sites and museums, and shutting out or driving away tourists.  All of these problems are happening simultaneously, precisely when these places are most needed to boost Greece’s economy through cultural/heritage tourism and other artistic and commercial enterprises.

And just as the crisis is crippling the cultural heritage profession and leaving cultural heritage sites vulnerable to natural damage and decay, it is also leaving those sites vulnerable to looting.  Worse, it is driving Greeks into poverty and desperation, where ‘many Greeks have placed their hopes in rumors of ancient treasures buried under the soil’.

Seemingly, the Greek state is now issuing about 300 ‘treasure search licenses’ a year (and not all of the permit-holders will be ethical collectors); but Greek businesses sell 3,000 metal detectors a year (and the number of imports is unknown).  Just as its people, Greece’s archaeology and cultural heritage will be permanently scarred by this crisis.

One of the heartbreaking aspects of this part of the Greek tragedy is visible in one of the once-more-popular legends:

Greeks had buried eight tons of gold in Halkidiki peninsula’s Varvara village in 1821, during revolts against the Ottomans, in fear that “Turks may take the gold away.” This amount of gold would be worth $430 million, and Varvara citizens believe the state would pay back all its dues and thus get out of the current crisis if the treasure were found.

fn1: tweets 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.

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