A task force of Culture Ministry officials and police officers who received specialized training for the Athens 2004 Olympic Games are discussing ways to boost security at Greece’s museums and archaeological sites following two high-profile heists in as many months, Culture Minister Pavlos Geroulanos told a parliamentary committee yesterday.
“Police units have been mobilized around the country to immediately increase the protection of museums and archaeological sites, and readiness levels have been increased,” Geroulanos told the Committee for Educational Affairs. Among the measures being explored are providing special training to security guards at museums and sites by police experts, improving electronic security and issuing a manual of standardized security procedures for all museums and sites.
Geroulanos in February had submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Lucas Papademos – who rejected it – following the robbery on February 17 of dozens of antiquities from a museum in Ancient Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympic Games. News of the heist made its way around the world, putting Greece’s ability to protect its cultural heritage into question as the government continues to curb public spending and reduce staff numbers at the country’s archaeological sites and museums. The two armed and hooded perpetrators of the Olympia robbery overpowered the 48-year-old female guard as she was starting her shift and had deactivated the alarm in the early hours of the day.
The thieves tied her up and smashed display cases, removing 65 artifacts, most dating from the 9th-4th century BC.
“What happened at Olympia was a very serious blow,” Geroulanos said. “We never want to see anything like it happen again. But we have to operate as though this kind of thing is being planned all the time,” he added. Earlier in the year, on January 9, an unknown number of thieves broke into the National Gallery in Athens and stole a painting by Pablo Picasso that had been donated to the country’s largest state museum by the artist himself, as well as an oil painting by Piet Mondrian and a drawing by Guglielmo Caccia.
The perpetrators of both the robbery at Ancient Olympia and at the National Gallery remain at large.