Robbing Greece of Its Pride
LONDON — In another blow to Greek pride, as the country struggles to meet its European partners’ demands for a financial bailout, armed robbers broke into a museum at the birthplace of the ancient Olympics on Friday and made off with a haul of treasures.
“It is clear that the necessary austerity required to fulfill this bankers club’s members will eviscerate the average working stiff Greek. Were I Greece I would default, leave the EU, drop its currency and do what I could to make my own way.”
Pavlos Geroulanos, Greece’s culture minister, was reported to have offered his resignation immediately after learning of the heist, the second major art theft this year. In January, thieves fled the National Gallery in Athens with $6.5 million-worth of art, including paintings by Pablo Picasso and Piet Mondrian.
The latest theft was blamed by some on budget cuts that have been imposed on all aspects of Greek public life in an attempt to rein in the country’s runaway debt.
Friday’s raid targeted the Ancient Olympia museum in southern Greece where a ceremony is scheduled for May 10 to light the Olympic flame for this year’s Games in London.
As the BBC’s foreign editor Jon Williams tweeted:
When Mr. Geroulanos announced last month that he would offer cut-price permits for films and photographic shoots at monuments such as the Parthenon, he was accused of “renting out” Greece’s art treasures to cover budget cuts.
Culture ministry security guards have been among the low-level public workers demanding job security and exemption from further budget cuts, in their case on the basis of the potential impact on museum security.
The latest robbery will be seized on as another symbol of a breakdown of Greek society in the face of the draconian austerity measures being imposed on the country’s 11 million people.
Rioting in Athens at the weekend in response to a government decision to bow to the demands of the country’s European creditors has spurred a mood of national humiliation. Some commentators say the Greeks have only themselves to blame while others suggest they should tell the European Union to get lost.
Rendezvous reader Richard McDonough wrote from Irvine, California, in response to our article on Wednesday entitled “The Decline and Fall of Greece”: “It is clear that the necessary austerity required to fulfill this bankers club’s members will eviscerate the average working stiff Greek. Were I Greece I would default, leave the EU, drop its currency and do what I could to make my own way.”
Before the weekend, however, it looked as if €130 billion bailout deal will be finalized on Monday.
The bargaining has brought some sharp exchanges touching on Greek pride and appeals for Europe to avoid humiliating the Greeks. One such appeal came from Alexis Papahelas, executive editor of the Greek daily Kathimerini who wrote in a contributed article in IHT Global Opinion this week:
“Some of our partners seem to focus more on ways to humiliate our political leaders or the average Greek than they are on getting the job done. If they somehow believe that they will force a change of political culture and personnel through intimidation, they are dead wrong.”