Acropolis occupied by protesters for second time this month
As the country’s economic crisis deepens, culture ministry workers and public art institutions feel the pain
By Helen Stoilas. News, Issue 214, June 2010
Published online: 25 May 2010
new york. Greek culture ministry staff took over the Acropolis Tuesday as President Karolos Papoulias and Culture Minister Pavlos Geroulanos attended the completion of a decade-long restoration on the ancient temple. The workers, who are on short-term contracts, were protesting over more than a year’s worth of back pay and to have their temporary positions made permanent. The demonstration ended peacefully with Geroulanos assuring his employees that a resolution to settle the payment backlog was being voted on in Parliament, and that a new civil service hiring procedure would be put in place when contracts expire in October.
Tuesday's protest is just the most recent symptom of continuing funding problems in the culture ministry. An exhibition by Russian-born, US-based artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov at the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens, is an early casualty of the Greek economic crisis. Deep cuts in the nation’s cultural budget, which are part of a package of austerity measures, has resulted in the postponement of the autumn show, “due to the extremely high cost of the exhibition and the very difficult financial situation” according to a museums spokeswoman. Speaking to The Art Newspaper, director Anna Kafetsi said the museum has had a 18.8% reduction in the funding it receives from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism as well as difficulty finding private sponsorship. “There is no money for new acquisitions but we will continue our exhibition schedule with lower productions costs,” said Kafetsi. And although it has not had to make any staff cuts, it will not be hiring any new staff for some time. In spite of the cutbacks, the museum opened three new exhibitions on 11 May, including a solo show of Chinese artist Yang Fudong, and says it is receiving many visitors.
Strikes in Athens at the beginning of May also included culture ministry workers and resulted in the closure of museums and archaeological sites, including the Acropolis, which was occupied by members of the Greek Communist Party who hung banners on the Sacred Rock demanding that the “Peoples of Europe Rise Up”.
To secure a €110bn bailout loan from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, the Greek government plans to implement strict austerity measures to cut the deficit from 13.6% to 3% by 2014. Budget cuts resulted in the temporary closure of around 40 museums and ancient sites earlier this year because of staff shortages. This included the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, which shut 16 galleries due to a lack of guards, and the White Tower in Thessaloniki.
The culture ministry has around 4,200 vacant positions, as contracts of short-term employees expired at the end of 2009. In January it cancelled a drive to hire more than 2,500 temporary staff. (Anonymous sources told the Greek press that civil servants had been trying to secure jobs for their children and relatives.)
The repeated strikes and closures have had a severe impact on the tourism industry, which accounts for 17% of gross domestic product and one in five jobs. The government has set up a crisis committee headed by the Greek National Tourism Organisation. During a visit by the Turkish prime minister last month, Greece’s culture minister and his Turkish counterpart signed a joint declaration to promote tourism and cultural co-operation. The partnership includes sharing expertise to preserve monuments, working together to protect cultural property, prevent illegal excavations and antiquities trafficking, and archaeological co-operation in the field.
There are also plans to organise exhibitions of contemporary art by Turkish artists in Greece and vice versa. Athens’ Benaki Museum unintentionally anticipated this collaboration with an exhibition of photographs of Istanbul by Ara Güler (until 25 July), a Turkish photojournalist of Armenian descent, which opened just before the declaration was signed.
The arrival of the first installment of the bailout loan at the end of May was overshadowed by the resignation of Angela Gerekou, Greece’s deputy minister of culture and tourism, after it emerged that her husband, a popular singer in Greece, owed more than €5m in unpaid taxes and fines.
Meanwhile, Greek museums have been attempting to regain some sense of normality. Fifty-four venues celebrated International Museum Day on 18 May with free admission and events.
“The country is in a state of emergency but I’m certain and optimistic that we will get out of this crisis and museums, like all of us as citizens, will have to adjust to the new situation. We will do things with the means that we have. I’m positive that our country will manage to get out of this crisis with persistence and creativity,” said Kafetsi.
A version of this article appeared in our June print edition, which was published before the 25 May protest took place
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