Geroulanos to ‘exhaust all avenues’ in Olympia case; and absorb all flak for systemic heritage security problems

As blogged on Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues and Things You Can’t Take Back, Culture Minister Pavlos Geroulanos’s offer to resign has been rejected; or, at least, it has ‘not been accepted‘ (yet). Rather, Papademos has asked Geroulanos ‘to “exhaust all avenues” in the probe’ (to absorb all the flak for the robbery and the investigation).

Over on Things You Can’t Take Back, Meg Lambert fears an Egyptian-style cock-up, where looting during the revolution caused Antiquities Minister Zahi Hawass to resign, which then left Egypt even more vulnerable to looting. I share that fear; but I think the primary problem in Greece is not personal but systemic.

Meg considers Geroulanos’s (attempted) resignation ‘cowardly and ineffective’, ‘essentially an admission that he was unwilling to support his country throughout this difficult time’; and she hopes ‘a much stronger replacement can be found’ as soon as possible.

I certainly agree that his resignation would have been ineffective (at best); but I have not seen or heard anything to suggest he was personally responsible for the security problems.

An appropriate leader?

Geroulanos has studied history, public administration and business administration; and has managed the finances of large Greek businesses (as well as worked in politics). He looks good on paper.

Yet below, Greek crisis blogger Heidi has commented that he has ‘never been an appropriate leader‘. She has been kind enough to explain in detail:

he has shown no interest in investing in archaeological research, cultural heritage preservation, the educational mission of museums, etc. Everything revolves around tourism for him, but even then, we have major museums and sites closing for years and years.

Heidi cited the Herakleion Archaeological Museum, which has been closed since 13th November 2006. It is an interesting example of the problems of Byzantine bureaucracy and development in a historic area, so I have put it in its own blog post: closed in 2006 for two years’ renovation; still closed now…
The limit on public work

Archaeologists are being treated as completely disposable – now they’re saying that if you work as an archaeologist for 3 years, you can never work in Greece as an archaeologist again (what on earth is that???).

Update (25th February 2012): a friend has patiently explained it to me (again); it is slightly different from (but just as bad as) your summary. First, the rule does not only apply to all archaeologists (or other Culture Ministry staff); it applies to lots of professionals. However, it does prevent archaeologists working for the Ministry of Culture and Tourism for more than two years (24 months) in total. After that, they can continue to work in Greece as an archaeologist, but only for private companies (on rescue digs).

It is an exquisitely Greek law: it was presumably designed to combat corruption and exploitation of bureaucracy; but it deprives skilled professionals of work, and the public sector of skilled professionals. It is an intriguing aspect of the dysfunction of the Greek state and economy in general. And its solution is obviously critical to the preservation of Greek cultural heritage (and, indeed, of the Greek cultural heritage profession).

Museums

Yes, some museums have opened – Pella is a good example. So it is not ALL bad. And I do understand that he has by far the smallest budget of any of the ministries. But it’s time that Tourism and Culture were divorced; I would like to see Tourism in some sort of Commerce ministry and Culture could hook up with Education perhaps.

I do think there is value in having a ministry of culture and tourism, particularly in a country where they are so closely connected. However, having a ministry of commerce/business and tourism (or whatever), and a ministry of culture and education, does seem sensible and productive.

Repatriation of Greek cultural property

Update (10th March 2012): journalists Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino reported that Geroulanos ‘greatly impressed Getty [Museum] officials’. He seems to have achieved a minor coup of cultural diplomacy:

The objects being returned [a gravestone fragment and an inscribed tablet] were never demanded by Greece, were not the result of new information coming to light, and do not bear clear signs of being looted…. Scholars have long known the grave stone fragments matched a stele in a Greek museum…. The returns were orchestrated by interim Getty antiquities curator Claire Lyons and her predecessor Karol Wight during informal discussions with Greek colleagues earlier this year.

Felch and Frammolino think that it is possible that this has established a ‘new precedent’ for repatriation of Greek cultural property.

Economic conditions

The local archaeologists had warned the Culture Ministry that ‘because of the prevailing economic conditions [λόγω των επικρατουσών οικονομικών συνθηκών]’ – because of the 44% cut in security staff – Greece’s cultural institutions and sites were vulnerable; but the only thing Geroulanos could have done then was… resign in protest.

Responsibility lies with the entire austerity government; or, more precisely, with the EU/ECB/IMF troika that has driven Greece into this disaster.

Operational adjustments; or, installing CCTV

In his statement on the refusal of his resignation, Geroulanos implied that the armed robbery of the Olympic museum had given the state a new insight into the vulnerability of Greece’s cultural heritage. But, as noted, that was not a new insight.

And he said that he had taken on ‘political responsibility’, an ‘additional political obligation’, for the ‘security and care of our cultural heritage’. Yet, surely, that is the most basic, and the most fundamental, responsibility of the Culture Ministry.

Apparently, the Ministry and the police have made the ‘operational adjustments’ necessary to safeguard the country’s cultural heritage in the age of austerity.(1)

The Associated Press (AP) went into (slightly) more detail on the new security measures:

a task force set up to review security at museums and archaeological sites recommended increasing surveillance at archaeological museums, improving guard training and upgrading closed-circuit TV and fire detection systems.(2)

(Hat tip, @ArchaeoinAction and @archaeologynews, for their links.)

Those are not technical issues, which require continual, slight changes (and perpetual, slight lags behind the very latest technologies); those are not complicated matters, where risky decisions must be made based upon limited, confusing data. Those are the most basic security measures. Greek governments have (or the Greek state has) taken the country’s cultural heritage for granted for years. And now, when Greece’s museums and, especially, archaeological sites lie neglected and endangered, Greece has lost its sovereignty.

1:

The political responsibility that I undertook, after the non-acceptance of my resignation by the Prime Minister, does not disappear but translates into an additional political obligation. The armed robbery at the Museum of the History of the Olympic Games of Antiquity in Olympia, the first armed robbery of a museum, confronts us with new data on the subjects of the security and care of our cultural heritage.

Cultural leaders and workers, together, must face these facts in such a way that safeguards the cultural wealth of our country together with its emotional value at a time that can become a source of strength for all of us. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism, in cooperation with the Police, have made the moves and those operational adjustments that are needed for us to be satisfied that the systems, the procedures and the staff, are at the level of security demanded by the new era that our country is traversing.

[Η πολιτική ευθύνη που ανέλαβα, μετά τη μη αποδοχή της παραίτησής μου από τον Πρωθυπουργό, δεν εξέλιπε αλλά μεταφράζεται σε επιπλέον πολιτική υποχρέωση. Η ένοπλη ληστεία στο Μουσείο Ιστορίας Ολυμπιακών Αγώνων της Αρχαιότητας στην Ολυμπία, η πρώτη ένοπλη ληστεία σε μουσείο, μας φέρνει αντιμέτωπους με νέα δεδομένα στα θέματα ασφαλείας και φύλαξης της πολιτιστικής μας κληρονομιάς.

Πολιτική ηγεσία και εργαζόμενοι, μαζί, οφείλουμε να αντιμετωπίσουμε αυτά τα δεδομένα με τέτοιο τρόπο ο οποίος θα διασφαλίζει τον πολιτιστικό πλούτο της χώρας μας μαζί και τη συναισθηματική του αξία σε μια περίοδο που μπορεί να γίνει πηγή δύναμης για όλους μας. Το ΥΠΠΟΤ και σε συνεργασία με την Αστυνομία, έχει προβεί στις κινήσεις και τις επιχειρησιακές εκείνες προσαρμογές που απαιτούνται μέχρι να είμαστε ικανοποιημένοι ότι τα συστήματα, οι διαδικασίες και το προσωπικό, είναι στο επίπεδο ασφαλείας που απαιτεί η νέα εποχή που διανύει η χώρα μας.]

2:

The team that was monitored and reported on a daily basis to the General Secretary of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Lina Mendoni, consists of: Tsene Sotiri (Retired Lieutenant of the Greek Police; honorary director of security for the 2004 Olympic Games), Frisira Kosta (Director of Project Implementation for Museums and Cultural Buildings; electrician and mechanic) Charmalia Niko (Representative of the Ministry of Culture in the 2004 Olympic Games’ Security Team; technician), Eleni Kourinou (Curator of the Antiquities of the Acropolis), Angeliki Kottaridi (Curator of the Antiquities of Vergina-Pella) and Souzana Kapeloni-Choulia (Director of Documentation and Protection of Cultural Property).

ομάδα που εποπτεύεται και αναφέρεται σε καθημερινή βάση στη Γενική Γραμματέα του ΥΠΠΟΤ, Λίνα Μενδώνη, αποτελείται από τους: Τσενέ Σωτήρη (Αντιστράτηγος ε.α. της ΕΛ.ΑΣ., επίτιμος διευθυντής ασφάλειας Ολυμπιακών Αγώνων 2004), Φρησίρα Κώστα (Διευθυντής Εκτέλεσης Έργων Μουσείων και Πολιτιστικών Κτιρίων, Ηλεκτρολόγος -Μηχανολόγος), Χαρμαλιά Νίκο (Εκπρόσωπος του υπουργείου Πολιτισμού στην Ομάδα Ασφαλείας των Ολυμπιακών Αγώνων 2004, Υπομηχανικός), Κουρίνου Ελένη (Έφορος Αρχαιοτήτων Ακροπόλεως), Κοτταρίδη Αγγελική (Έφορος Αρχαιοτήτων Βεργίνας- Πέλλας) και Καπελώνη-Χούλια Σουζάνα (Διευθύντρια Τεκμηρίωσης και Προστασίας Πολιτιστικών Αγαθών).]

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11 Responses to “Geroulanos to ‘exhaust all avenues’ in Olympia case; and absorb all flak for systemic heritage security problems”

  1. regardless of cowardice for wanting to resign, Geroulanos has never been an appropriate leader for the ministry of culture. I was sorry to see that his resignation was not accepted. It was overdue.

  2. he has shown no interest in investing in archaeological research, cultural heritage preservation, the educational mission of museums, etc. Everything revolves around tourism for him, but even then, we have major museums and sites closing for years and years. The Arch Mus of Herakleion – the most important museum in the country after the NAMA, has been closed for YEARS – I think since 2007? and no effort is made to make progress on the building. Same for Akrotiri – I was last there in 2010 and even the “KEEP OUT – WORK IN PROGRESS” signs were covered in rust. Archaeologists are being treated as completely disposable – now they’re saying that if you work as an archaeologist for 3 years, you can never work in Greece as an archaeologist again (what on earth is that???). He has no background or training in any relavant field that I can tell (though I could be wrong, I base that on the drivel that comes out of his mouth). Yes, some museums have opened – Pella is a good example. So it is not ALL bad. And I do understand that he has by far the smallest budget of any of the ministries. But it’s time that Tourism and Culture were divorced; I would like to see Tourism in some sort of Commerce ministry and Culture could hook up with Education perhaps.

  3. When you wrote that he was a “historian,” I was quite taken aback! I had to look it up – he studied history as an undergraduate at Williams College, but his graduate studies were all in politics. According to the Wikipedia article on him, his career was in politics, banking, and fish farming. I believe his real “resume” is that he is the grandson of Benaki (of the Benaki Museum), one of the wealthiest Greeks of the 20th century, and incidentally also related to Antonis Samaras, the head of Nea Dimocratia, the opposing party to Geroulanos’. I don’t know him personally or anything, my views are just based on the way the ministry has been handled since PASOK came to power. (I’m not a member of any political party in Greece, just an American observer.) 🙂

    • Ha! Yes, well, I just meant that he had studied history and should have some appreciation of and concern for the historic environment; and I did note that he was (more) qualified to be an administrator. (I’ll clarify that.)

      I’m sure that his career has involved… everything that defines Greek political life 🙂 … but that shouldn’t preclude the possibility of him being competent.

      I guess my (two-part) question is: is PASOK handling culture worse than ND, or equally poorly; and if they are treating it worse, is that related to the party, or is it related to the crisis? Herakleion Archaeological Museum’s problems, for example, began under ND.

      I’ve tried to steer clear of Greek party politics, because they all seem such (equally) disappointing specimens. (LAOS is worse than the others, but I don’t count home-made axe-wielding fascists…)

  4. Hard to say if one party is worse than any other. I don’t think LAOS has been in power enough to really judge, ND and PASOK are the only parties that have ever had an actual government and both are highly ineffective. I don’t think one can say that things are better or worse under PASOK than under ND, except that obviously PASOK has less money to work with. But ND staffing incompetents hardly excuses PASOK from doing the same.

    • Honestly, I pray LAOS never gets into power long enough for us to see what it would do.

      Certainly, neither ND or PASOK’s ineffectiveness or incompetence excuses the other’s. I just wish there were a competent alternative to both.

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