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Greece/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and recent debates  

4.2.2 Heritage issues and policies

Since the 1980s, there has been an attempt to marry the traditional policy priority of archaeological heritage protection and research with regional development policies, in the context of the 2nd Support Framework Programme co-funded by the European Commission. The primary goal remains to provide the necessary infrastructure and recognition to attract cultural tourism. This policy was manifested in the:

  • funding of large-scale archaeological research and site restoration projects, both in Athens and in the regions;
  • new museum building projects, intended to provide necessary storage space for newly-found archaeological artefacts and to become a focus for visitors; and
  • successful efforts to increase the number of sites and monuments bestowed World Heritage Monument or Site status by UNESCO through the provision of adequate documentation.

A notable policy shift was visible in the late 1990s, linked, firstly, with the realisation that investment in physical infrastructure, while necessary, was not sufficient to promote regional development in the field of cultural heritage, and, secondly, with increased pressure towards social and financial accountability in heritage management. The result was:

  • a more integrative approach to cultural heritage, both across historical periods and across genres and disciplines. In this context, recently amended legislation sets common rules in managing all material cultural heritage items – including not just archaeological monuments and sites but also the more recent architectural heritage and ethnographic objects. The same level of protection is to be extended to cultural assets related to Classical Greek and Byzantine heritage as well as mosques and synagogues. A number of institutes and organisations have been formed to provide the necessary know-how and co-ordination of policy in fields, such as the study and protection of the Byzantine heritage, or the scientific conservation of stone and marble. In addition, in 2006 Greece ratified the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage;
  • an attempt to build synergies between cultural heritage and the contemporary arts. This is exemplified, among others, in the increasing use of cultural heritage sites (such as ancient theatres – notably the Theatre of Epidaurus used as a standard venue by the Athens Festival, other ancient theatres across Greece currently restored through the state-subsidised work of the Diazoma association - whole archaeological sites, and, even Christian religious monuments) as venues for diverse cultural – theatrical, musical – events, a policy that in general has been successful, but has not escaped criticism from a segment of the archaeological profession, conservationists and the Greek Orthodox church;
  • a growing recognition that cultural heritage interpretation, and the provision of access to cultural heritage for aesthetic appreciation, for learning and for the promotion of social and cultural goals. A major policy objective is to avoid the subordination of cultural heritage to more general heritage protection and preservation. Museums are seen as a key sector in the promotion of this objective, as shown by the increasing number of state museums which are given management autonomy from the central service of the Ministry of Culture. There has also been a move to separate the administration of museums from the Archaeological Ephorates. Generous financial support has been given for the construction of major museums and galleries (such as the state-owned Acropolis Museum, and the independently-run Benaki Museum). Specific terms for museum accreditation, envisaged by legislation since 2002, were at last defined in 2011. However, the National Advisory Council for museum policy, operational since 2006, is still to play a broader role in setting policy initiatives which will, hopefully, help to boost upward trends in museum attendance;
  • a realisation of the financial returns related to an increase in visitor participation as well as the potential benefits from audiovisual or digital presentations of cultural objects could bring. In the latter context, there has been an increased awareness of the need for rights protection. Amendments to intellectual property legislation strengthen enforcement measures. A Presidential Decree on Cultural Sponsorship (2007) provides a conducive framework for private financial contribution to the arts;
  • since 2005 a new emphasis is placed on the issues of protection against illicit export of antiquities, on international cooperation against illicit trade, and on the return of cultural objects exported illegally from Greece; attempts to secure the return of such objects have been met by success (a notable recent case concerning the return of Classical antiquities by the Getty Museum in Malibu), and the government introduced in late 2007 legislation to Parliament to create a new "Directorate of Documentation and Protection of Cultural Goods" in the Ministry of Culture, which will host IT-based and physical archives on stolen and illegally exported antiquities. A stick-and-carrot policy is put in effect, according to which cooperation in areas such as travelling exhibitions, object loans etc. will be tied to prior return of illegally exported antiquities by the peer institution. This new approach shapes the landscape for the continuing effort to ensure the restitution of the Elgin Marbles to the new Acropolis Museum, which opened its doors to the public in 2009.
  • The economic crisis affecting Greece since 2009 has a major effect on the ability to pursue policy initiatives in cultural heritage, not least due to the high costs related to supporting an extensive heritage infrastructure. Major cuts in temporary and contract staff since 2010, in the absence of technological and administrative modernisation, have strained the capability of the archaeological service and museums in providing effective access and protection to Greek heritage assets (a fact witnessed by recent thefts of holdings from the National Gallery in Athens, and the Olympic Museum in ancient Olympia).

For more information, see
European Heritage Network: Country profile Greece

Chapter published: 14-08-2015

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