Discussion topic for the day: can privatization save the treasures of ancient Hellas? The Archaeology News Network recently published a discussion on this topic, and it is a very good read. In this case, the discussion is between Stephen Miller, an American archaeologist who has spent the last four decades unearthing Nemea’s treasures, and everyone ever in charge of Nemea. From the article:

"[...] 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 Temple of Zeus, Nemea [Credit: Ophelia2/WikiCommons]

Needless to say, the reactions have not been positive, at least not from the Powers That Be:

"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 [Panos] 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."

Greece is in a terrible economic bind, and it's no secret that even in these crummy economic times, tourism is still a relatively safe bet for income generation. As such, it would be a wise investment to focus on the one major selling point the country has: its cultural heritage. Since budget cuts prevent the government from doing so, privatization is a viable option... but comes with risks.

Privatization literally means that the rights to do with the site whatever the owner wants--probably within bounds, but still--go to a non-governmental owner, who might not be willing to invest for the long-term. Further studies and digs might be denied, precious art and remnants stolen or destroyed. Privatization would mean a loss of control over the sites, and hat is a scary prospect--even if it would help save the economy.

Depending on the buyer, privatizing might not be the worst idea, but it would make far more sense for the government to step up its game and stimulate the type of reaction privatization would bring without losing the rights to the monuments itself. I'd love to hear your opinions on the subject. What do you say; privatization? Yay, or nay?