Can Privatization Save the Treasures of Ancient Greece?

In the wake of government austerity, some closest to Greece's treasures are advocating turning them over to private companies

  • Share
  • Read Later
Derek Gatopoulos / AP

Stephen Miller stands in front of the Temple of Neamean Zeus in southern Greece, Wednesday Sept. 25, 2013.

Many objects dug from the earth or drawn from the legends of Nemea could be used to promote the ancient Greek site: the mythological Nemean Lion slain by Hercules in the first of his seven feats; weights lifted by competitors during its ancient athletics; the bronze statue of the baby Opheltes, whose death is said to have inspired the games which rivaled those at Olympia further west.

That no replicas exist and the gift stand at the site’s museum instead sells copies of Cycladic idols from an archipelago 200km east infuriates Stephen Miller, an American archaeologist who has spent the last four decades unearthing Nemea’s treasures. “None of these had anything to do with Nemea,” he tells TIME, gesturing at the paltry selection in the glass cabinet.

Equally frustrating to the 72-year-old is the lack of hotels and restaurants to serve visitors to the site. “The Ministry of Culture does some things very well: it does conservation work extremely well, they are very good at setting up exhibitions,” says Miller. “They are lousy businessmen.”

Miller has a solution, which he says will generate jobs and protect Greece’s vast archaeological wealth from the ravages of an economic crisis which has closed down ancient sites, shuttered museums and caused looting to surge. In a detailed proposal sent to the government at the end of last year, he suggests letting private companies take over the development, promotion and security of certain under-exploited sites in exchange for a share of revenue generated from tourists.

The proposal may not seem too radical at a time when Italy is letting a fashion company sponsor The Colosseum, Britain is privatizing certain services at some iconic museums, and other European nations are selling off job lots of historic buildings as budgets dwindle. But any suggestion of letting Greece’s vast cultural riches fall out of government hands stirs deep nationalist sentiment in a country scarred by repeated plundering by foreign nations.

The depth of the crisis, however, means private sector involvement in the vast treasures of Greece is not the political taboo it once was.

“Inevitably the Ministry of Culture will shrink,” says Giorgos Vavouranakis, a lecturer in archeology at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. His concern is that the shift from state to private sector is happening in a haphazard and unregulated fashion: “We need a vision on culture, on heritage, on how we deal with these things, which I think is currently lacking.”

Since Greece’s massive public debt pushed the nation to the brink of bankruptcy in 2009, austerity measures demanded by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund in return for €240bn in bailout loans have hit every sector of government and society. Today, a fifth of Greeks live in poverty; youth unemployment is at 58 per cent; and whole swathes of the civil service are awaiting months of back pay or have simply been let go.

The Minister of Culture, Panos Panagiotopoulos, says his budget has been slashed by 52 per cent since 2010. The consequences will be wide-ranging and long-lasting, the Association of Greek Archaeologists has warned. Fewer archaeologists operating with less money will impact preservation, research and analysis. No staff to sell tickets means sites and museums have had to close or reduce their opening hours, depriving them of revenue. Increased poverty means more people turning to crime, and with fewer guards keeping an eye on treasures, reports of looting of artifacts and illegal digs have increased.

At Nemea, in the north of the Peloponnese peninsula, the sudden withdrawal in 2012 of overtime pay for the ten guards meant the site was partially closed for ten weeks. Tourists arriving on weekends could no longer visit the elegant columns of the 330BC Temple of Zeus or read the ancient graffiti scrawled on the tunnel by athletes more than 2,500 years ago as they made their way to the stadium for the Nemean Games.

The guards finally went back to work after negotiations with the government, but Miller says they have still not been paid for any of the Sundays worked since. A current court case on the legality of temporary contracts could cause the number of guards at Nemea to drop from ten to three. Similar stories are repeated at many of the nation’s 9,000 archaeological sites and 228 archaeological museums, and it is frustration at their lack of development for the record numbers of tourists traveling to Greece – it peaked at 17 million last year – that prompted Miller’s proposal.

“I’ve kept my mouth shut for 40 years, but now I’m going to bang the table – this is such a wasted asset,” says Miller, who is officially retired but still involved in maintenance at the site.

His anger is borne from a lifetime devoted to Nemea. When he arrived as a 30-year-old with the University of California, Berkeley, in 1973, Nemea was an unguarded jumble of ruins. In the intervening years, using funds from foreign and Greek donors, Miller and other Berkeley archaeologists have preserved the land, built the museum, pieced together the story of the site from the artifacts they unearthed, and partially restored the Temple of Zeus.

Berkeley is not the only foreign academic institution working in Greece. Schools from 17 countries are involved in digs nationwide. The wealthy US universities are particularly prominent, with at least 10 involved in current projects. All artifacts foreign archaeologists unearth are the property of the Greek state, and Miller is at pains to stress that he is not suggesting Greece sell artifacts and or historic sites. This is a sensitive issue: an interview with two German politicians which appeared in Bild magazine in 2010 under the headline “Sell your islands, you bankrupt Greeks, and the Acropolis too!” provoked outrage and revived memories of the plunders of the past.

Elena Korka, the culture ministry’s Director for Antiquaries and Private Archaeological Collections, says pillaging for prestige or profit dates back to the Romans, who raided Greek tombs for artifacts to decorates nobles’ villas. Invading foreign powers like Napoleon and the Nazis also took a share of the rich archaeological pickings. As a result, Greece now has some of the strictest laws protecting antiquities. “We do not consider it an object of commerce,” says Korka.

The culture minister right now rejects any suggestion of handing over administration of sites. “The cultural wealth, the legacy of this country, will remain under state control because it belongs to the Greek people,” says Panagiotopoulos. But he does not rule out greater private sector involvement in other areas, and says parliament recently passed a measure allowing tour companies to effectively rent out archaeological sites for an event or an out-of-hours visit. Businesses can now also shoot their commercials against the backdrop of Greece’s dramatic monuments.

Vavouranakis, the academic, says another new law allows firms to hire their own archaeologists to carry out assessments at potential development sites. He is concerned such outsourcing could mean the hiring of cheaper, under-qualified individuals. While he is not opposed to giving private companies licenses to run sites, he says it is crucial that the Ministry of Culture retain strict control over how the story of the cradle of western civilizations is told.

“If you leave the narrative produced to somebody else,” he says, “then essentially you lose any grip on your national identity and sense of history.”


All I would say is you might be right you might be wrong ! You can't expect IC to tip every share you own surely ? Also if it was that simply we would all follow every recommendation and all become mega rich very quickly ! Congratulations on your performance which is outstanding, but what is your rationale behind these holdings. Also what are your risk parameter's ? Not everybody can afford to have possibly such a bold approach.


An Islamic militant group in Russia's North Caucasus has claimed responsibility for twin suicide bombings in the southern city of Volgogradlast month and posted a video threatening to strike the 2014 winter Olympics in Sochi.

There had been no previous claim of responsibility for the bombings, which killed 34 people and heightened security fears before next month's Games.

In the video, two Russian-speaking men warned President Vladimir Putin: "If you hold these Olympics, we will give you a present for the innocent Muslim blood being spilled all around the world: in Afghanistan, in Somalia, in Syria."

They said: "For the tourists who come, there will be a present, too."

In a statement posted with the video on its website, the militant group Vilayat Dagestan claimed responsibility for the Volgograd bombings.

The video claims that the two men, identified as Suleiman and Abdurakhman, were the suicide bombers and purports to show the explosives being prepared and strapped to their bodies.

There was no immediate reaction to the video from the Russian security services.

During much of the 49-minute video, the two men speak to the camera while holding Kalashnikov automatic rifles. Behind them hang black banners with Arabic religious phrases similar to those used by al-Qaida.


Narendra Modi spent much of the first forty five minutes of his speech at the BJP's national council meeting on Sunday taking pot-shots at the Congress. Launching a political counter offensive at the government on issues ranging from Mani Shankar Aiyar’s Chaiwallah jibes to Congress’s reluctance to appoint Rahul Gandhi as its prime ministerial candidate, Modi also sought to challenge the GOP’s elitist traditions by brandishing his own origins as a railway tea seller. The speech had all the ingredients of an engaging, acerbic political attack.

A good half hour in the latter part of that speech though was dedicated to the less fiery but more important objective of articulating his idea for India. And thankfully it wasn't just an enunciation of a 'Congress Mukt Bharat' - the chant that rumbled through jarringly at his Mumbai Mahagarjana rally leading to accusations by commentators that Modi was merely stating but not presenting specific solutions to India's deluge of problems,

This time Modi unveiled a canvas that had broad brush strokes of the proposals, goals and intentions that charted out his vision to get the country out of the current state of crisis. 'Modinomics' was on full display finally. In a speech laced with shades of politics, economics, social issues and spirituality, Modi tackled a surfeit of ideas to appeal to a wide audience - ranging from plans for cross country bullet trains, to developing a hundred new cities and satellite towns, setting up mechanisms to tackle price rise and building IIMs & IITs in every state of the country. 

It felt too sweeping at times, overtly ambitious perhaps, given the coalition & federal compulsions Modi will have to deal with if he comes to power & the tattered economy he will inherit.  But it hit the bar on charting out a grand vision to counter the Congress’s deficiency of ideas. Rahul Gandhi’s speech two days ago was impassioned, but stressed on achievements rather than initiatives, and focused on the usual jaded planks of secularism and inclusive growth. Manmohan Singh’s defensive press conference a few days ago did nothing either to tell us what the Congress had in mind to rebuild India’s future.


Putin has shown he puts his money where his mouth is......Syria is the best now the talking heads want to blame him for their own sins. NSA spying bill was passed over seven years ago. Those of us who protested, wrote and submitted petitions, phoned, and so on, were completely ignored.

Fortunately, Americans are far more awake today, and Ed Snowden's timing was perfect. Even now, US media won't touch this story, they fill the airwaves with lies, obfuscation and more lies....I cannot abide listening to them.
So, lets blame Russia.
If it is true, all I can say is Thank you, Russia.
Ironic that Russia Today is a far better news source than any American site. When I was a young girl, the US was an open society, and Russia was know for propaganda and lies. Today, it seems to have reversed.
It won't stay that way, unfortunately. Too many things are happening over there, and Russia has a very bleak history. The people will accept a lot in order to regain world power status, and Putin is fully aware of that. He will regain lost territory and take back all the power of past Russian leaders.


The Hellenic  diaspora boasts many a Billionaire. Not, George Soros is not a Hellene (Greek). These people could show immense patriotism by offering to sponsor these sites. By building hotels etc AND guaranteeing the security of each and every artifact, every marble, every piece of Hellenic soil


Opinions are like arses, everybody's got one.


When wealthy people in Greece ( and elsewhere in the world) let  to middle class and others the burden of debit it's a shame. A pity, that a very big country ,once birthplace of democracy of western mentality (philosophia,art,beauty,story...) is destroyed from inside by corrupt politicians ,bankers and wealthy people, who earn money on this situation ,and put money in secret account in switzerland .And some are not even paying a single cent of taxe !  Of course it's possible to sell everything as a cheap price to the same people who destroyed the country as well. After selling the culture of an great old country whose next ? People ?


This is an absolutely abonimable hit piece on Greece, one of thousands that have appeared since the economic "crisis" began in 2009-2010.  It is absolutely disgraceful that a supposedly reputable publication such as Time Magazine suggests that Greece should sell out its historical and cultural heritage to some corporation.  These are artifacts that belong to all of the Greek people, maintained and presented to the world using their taxes, and indeed, this is a heritage that belongs to all of humanity, not another profit-seeking corporation.

As for the assertions made in the article about widespread looting, please, let us know what these incidents of looting are, because we certainly have not heard about them.  The one high-profile case I can think of, from Ancient Olympia a couple of years back, ended in the recovery of the stolen artifacts and the arrests of the perpetrators.  Why not let us know about the various high-profile thefts at art museums and other cultural sites around the world, in places like France, Italy, the US, etc., the past few years?  Oh, I forgot, Greece is the easy target, the Greek people (and particularly their public servants) are "lazy" and "corrupt" and drink ouzo all day, while in the other countries (where undoubtedly those "private investors" will come from), everyone is competent and responsible.

Finally, for the love of God, please stop calling the LOANS that Greece is receiving from the EU, the European Central Bank, and the IMF "bailouts."  They are loans with high interest rates and hundreds of strings attached, conditions which have directly led to the high unemployment and increased poverty referenced in your article.  This is not a bailout, it is economic warfare. Shame on you, Time Magazine.


Bangalore-based bio-pharmaceutical company Biocon on Saturday launched the world’s first biosimilar (developed in an organism) Trastuzumab injection for the treatment of breast cancer here. This is the first drug developed by Biocon in partnership with US-based generic drug maker Mylan. The new drug, CANMAb, will be used to treat HER2-positive advanced breast cancer.

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, chairperson and managing director, Biocon, said the company would also launch the injection in other emerging markets. The CANMab injection will compete with Roche’sHerceptin. Herceptin’s global sales were $6.4 billion in 2012 and Indian $21 million.

The drug has been jointly developed out of five molecules with Mylan, since a partnership was signed in 2009. Mylan will also launch CANMab under a different brand in India.

The injection is available in 150mg and 440mg doses at Rs 19,500 and Rs 57,500, respectively. The 440mg dose costs a fourth less than competing drugs, Mazumdar-Shaw said.

Biocon has set up a factory in Bangalore to make the new injection for itself as well as Mylan. Mylan will source its requirements from Biocon for both Indian and developed markets, a senior company official said.

Biocon entered into partnership with Mylan for joint development of a series of drugs for the treatment of various cancers in 2009. At present, four other drugs are under development, of which will begin clinical trials later this year, said Abhijit Barve, president (research and development), Biocon.


At least 21 people, including two Americans, were killed Friday evening in a commando-style attack by Taliban insurgents on a popular Lebanese restaurant in the Afghan capital, local officials said Saturday.

The attack, one of the deadliest in Kabul in years, began when a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the restaurant gate just after 7 p.m. Friday, according to the Interior Ministry. Gunmen then entered and started shooting in the busy dining room.

After a sporadic exchange of gunfire that lasted nearly two hours, security forces said they had shot dead the two attackers inside.

“The U.S. Embassy has confirmed that at least two private U.S. citizens were among the victims of last night’s terrorist attack in Kabul,” officials said in a tweet Saturday. The pair had been teaching at the private American University of Afghanistan, in Kabul, the embassy said.

State Department spokes­woman Jen Psaki said the dead did not include any members of the U.S. Embassy staff in Kabul.

Hashmat Stanekzai, a spokesman for Kabul’s police command, said police had established that 13 foreigners and eight Afghans were killed in the attack. He said five of the victims were women, four of them expatriates.

A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabiullah Mujahid, asserted responsibility for the attack. In a statement, the Taliban said the assault was to avenge the killings of a group of civilians who died in a U.S. airstrike earlier this week northwest of Kabul.

Among those killed was the owner of the restaurant, Kamal Hamade, Interior Ministry officials said. Four Afghan employees of the United Nations lost their lives, as did the International Monetary Fund’s country director, Wabel Abdallah, who, like Hamade, was Lebanese, news reports said.


NO ONE HAS predicted the Middle East rom 1950s